Enrollment of Special Education Students Grew in 2015-2016

Special Education Enrollment Up!

According to federal data, more and more special education students are joining their peers at school. In the January 25th, 2016 issue of Education Week, Christina A. Samuels discussed the changing size and composition of special education students enrolled in the U.S.

Growth is attributed to growing numbers of students in the autism and “other health impairments” categories.

Students struggling with Autism, may have a hard time in social situations and could benefit from curriculum focusing on intimacy. The start of the 2015-2016 school year saw an increase in special education enrollment of students ages 6 to 21 for a fourth consecutive year. This growth is attributed to growing numbers of students in the autism and “other health impairments” categories.

By contrast, enrollment for the largest category – Specific Learning Disabilities – has declined by 14% in the last decade, Intellectual Disabilities decreased by 19% to 412,000 students.

Major contributors to the enrollment drop in the specific learning disabilities category include a decrease in enrollment of students with emotional disturbances by 25% to 345,000 students, intellectual disabilities down by 19% to 412,000 students, and speech and language impairments reduced by 11% to around 1 million students.

Autism identification significantly increased to 1 in 68 children in the most recent prevalence estimates.

Special Education On the Rise

“Over that 10-year span, the number of children identified with the disorder has risen 144 percent, to about 546,000 students.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also noted an increase in the number of children identified as having autism, from 1 in 150 children in 2007 to 1 in 68 children in the most recent prevalence estimates.”

In the past decade, the umbrella category of “other health impairments” – including mental health disorders, diabetes, epilepsy, and even ADHD – has increased enrollment by 49% to approximately 887,000 students. However, enrollment of the other disability categories, which make up a small portion of the special education population (e.g. hearing, visual, or orthopedic impairments; traumatic brain injury; or multiple disabilities), has remained steady. Many of these students, who are very capable in many aspects of life, are lacking the necessary skills to succeed in the work world.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in fall 2015 students with disabilities accounted for 8.8% of the overall U.S. population within the ages of 6 to 21 years – up from 8.7% in 2014. The result was an enrollment increase of approximately 100,000 students; from 5.8 million in fall 2014 to 5.9 million in fall 2015. These numbers, however, still fall below the peak enrollment of 9.1% at 6 million students in 2004.

The Influence of Identification of Special Education

Despite the changes in special education enrollment, these numbers, by themselves, do not indicate that the number of youth with disabilities is increasing or decreasing.

This data is mindful of “state and local policies that encourage, or discourage, special education identification,” while nationwide policy seems to be influencing the identification rates of specific categories.

“For example, the widespread adoption of multitiered systems of supports and response to intervention may be related to a decrease in the number of students classified as having a specific learning disability. That is the largest category of students covered under the IDEA, but for the 10-year span between fall 2006 and fall 2015, the percentage of students in that category dropped about 14 percent, to about 2.3 million children.”

These numbers reflect a promising trend for students with disabilities as systems for identification and intervention increase support and as enrollment continues to climb, many more students are provided with the opportunity for a proper education.


Categories: Developmental Disabilities
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