27 Striking Special Education Statistics You Need to Know

Before the IDEA law’s enactment in 1975, the standards for special education varied to great extents among the states. At that moment, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act enabled more than a million kids with disabilities to enter schools. According to special education statistics, teaching students with special needs in the US has drastically changed; special education teachers provide disabled children with the necessary knowledge for years.

Today, children facing disabilities of any kind are welcome to join general education classrooms while following a special curriculum designed to meet their learning abilities. Read on to find out more about the state of special education.

Key Statistics on Special Education (Editor’s Choice)

  • 15% of all public school students require special education.
  • 3.5% of US students receive education for a reading disorder.
  • 19.4% of students applying for college report having a disability.
  • Currently, there’s one special education teacher per 17 students with disabilities.
  • 19% of students receiving special education have speech or language impairments.
  • 9.4% of children in the US have ADHD.
  • More than half of special education students go for higher education.
  • 75.4% of all special education teachers are women.

The State of Special Education Stats

1. More than 7 million students attend special education in the USA.


The National Center for Education Statistics states that the number of students aged 3–21 studying under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is 7.2 million. This makes up 15% of all public school students across the US.

In contrast, there were 6.3 million learners with special needs in the 2009–2010 school year, accounting for 13% of all students in the US.

2. At 19.2%, New York is the state with the largest number of students with disabilities enrolled in public schools.

(Pew Research Center)

The special education statistics by state indicate that not every US state takes part in the overall enrollment equally. The percentage of students with special needs differs from one state to another. It’s the highest in New York (19.2%), Pennsylvania (18.6%), and Maine (18.6%), but it goes as low as 9.2% in Texas.

3. All but 15 states saw growth in the number of disabled students since the 2000–01 school year, the most prominent being in Nevada — 58%.

(Pew Research Center)

Since the turn of the century, the number of special education students by state has seen exponential growth. The most notable increase was in Nevada (58%). On the other hand, Rhode Island experienced a significant decline of 23%. The vast discrepancy in numbers is because of the difficulties in identifying disabled students and how the states determine which of them can receive special education.

4. The number of students undergoing special education is highest for American Indian/Alaska Native students — 17.5%.

(Education Week)

Out of all public school students with a disability, special education statistics by race display the following differences in percentage:

  • American Indian/Alaska Native students – 18.3%
  • Black students – 16.6%
  • White students – 14.7%
  • Two or more race students – 15.4%
  • Hispanic students – 13.8%
  • Pacific Islander students – 11.2%
  • Asian students – 7.1%

5. The federal government spends about $12.3 billion on special education for students aged 3–12.

(Education Week)

Special education advocates claim that the $12.3 billion spent by the federal government isn’t enough to cover the cost of special education for students with disabilities. The expenses are much higher than those for general education, and this amount of money covers only 15% of the excess cost.

In addition, the government has agreed to provide close to 40% of the excess cost. However, no school has received the total amount so far.

Students with Disabilities Statistics

6. Less than 10% of disabled children in Africa attend school.

(Their World)

As education statistics confirm, learning in underdeveloped countries is a challenge, but it’s even more complex for students with disabilities. Less than 10% of disabled children attend school in Africa, and 75% don’t attend school in Afghanistan. In addition, only 30% of students in Bangladesh have completed primary school.

7. One in six children in the US has a form of developmental delay.

(AAP News)

The latest study reveals that approximately 18% of children have a developmental disability. This figure has also been on the rise for the past two decades. In addition, according to the developmental delay prevalence data, males are twice more likely to have a developmental delay than females, especially in terms of ADHD, learning disabilities, and autism.

8. Specific learning disability is the largest category in special education, seen in almost a third of US students.

(Pew Research Center)

Around 33% of students in the US are receiving special education due to a specific learning disability, according to intellectual disability statistics. These disabilities are followed by speech or language impairment, other health impairment, autism, developmental delay, intellectual disability, emotional disturbance, multiple disabilities, and others.

9. An equal number of boys and girls have multiple disabilities.

(Course Hero)

A total of 0.18% of US students covered under IDEA are affected by multiple and severe disabilities. The data on the prevalence of multiple disabilities also shows that an equal number of boys and girls have more than one disability.

10. 3.5% of US students receive special education for a reading disorder.

(AAP) (LD OnLine)

One of the most common disabilities among Americans is dyslexia — a learning disorder that affects brain areas in charge of processing language, especially reading. The latest data shows that around two million children, or 3.5% of all US students, have a reading disorder and receive special education.

11. Special education stats in America show that around 10% of students with disabilities have been diagnosed with autism.


Apart from dyslexia and other impairments, autism is highly present among US students and therefore in future workplaces as well. A total of 10.2% of special education students are diagnosed with this disorder, translating to around 710,294 children.

This marks an increase since 2000 when only 1.5% of students had the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Furthermore, learning disabilities statistics indicate that boys are 4–5 times more likely to have this disorder than girls.

12. 19% of students receiving special education have speech or language impairments.


Students with speech and language impairments usually have fluency, articulation, and voice difficulties. In addition, 15% of students have other health impairments, including limited vitality or strength or acute health problems, such as heart condition or asthma.

13. The number of students with learning disabilities who spent time in regular classrooms doubled from 1989 to 2017.


The percentage of special education students in an inclusion classroom more than doubled between 1989 and 2017. In 1989, the percentage of students with special needs who spent at least 80% of their time in regular education classrooms was 31.7%. In 2017, this number rose to 63.4%.

14. 9.4% of US children have ADHD.


Usually diagnosed during childhood, ADHD is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder, and it can last into adulthood. According to the latest children with disabilities statistics, 9.4% of kids in the US have been diagnosed with this disorder. Out of these, 388,000 children are 2–5 years old, 2.4 million are 6–11 year-olds, and 3.3 million are aged 12–17.

15. Six in 10 children with ADHD have at least one other disorder.


A national parent survey showed that it’s common for children with ADHD to have another mental, behavioral, and emotional disorder. For example, emotional disturbance statistics reveal that 5 in 10 children have a behavior problem, and about 3 in 10 have anxiety. Data further shows that boys (12.9%) are more likely to get diagnosed with ADHD than girls (5.6%).

16. 3%–6% of children have dyscalculia.


Dyscalculia is a learning disability that hinders a person’s ability to understand basic mathematical concepts. For example, kids with this diagnosis can’t grasp the concepts of measuring, estimating, and time and have difficulties counting and grouping numbers. Studies on the specific learning disability prevalence show that 3–6% of the school population in the US is affected by this condition.

17. Dyspraxia is likely to affect as many as 6% of children.

(PLOS One)

The prevalence of learning disabilities such as dyspraxia, or developmental coordination disorder (DCD), is hard to determine. However, according to the latest estimates, 6% of children are diagnosed with this condition. The data also shows that boys are four times more likely to be affected by it than girls.

 College & Special Education Statistics

18. One in five students applying for college has a disability.


Students with disabilities are capable and can advance if given the right resources that meet their specific learning needs. Out of 19,308 college applicants, 19.4% reported at least one type of learning disability.

19. Approximately 16% of 25–64-year-olds who haven’t finished high school have one or more disabilities.


According to the latest data, the percentage of students with learning disabilities who haven’t completed high school is 16%, compared to 11% of those who have. Additionally, 10% of those with at least one disability have completed college, 8% have completed an associate’s degree, 4% have obtained a BA, and 3% have completed a master’s or a higher degree.

20. More than half of special education students go for higher education.


The latest college students with disabilities statistics show that 54% of high school students who receive special education plan to attend college. In addition, 43% plan to sign up for a vocational training course.

21. ADHD is a prevalent disability among US college students.


The percentage of college students with disabilities in the US who reported ADHD is 12.1%. Moreover, 3.6% report having a learning disability. In addition, 2% say they have autism, and 0.9% state they have either a speech or a language disorder.

Facts About Special Education Teachers

22. The estimated growth rate of special education teachers by 2028 is around 3%.


The growth rate regarding special education teachers has been described as “slower than average.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the estimated growth rate for special needs teachers will revolve around 3% by 2028. The estimations imply that 13,600 special education teaching opportunities will be available by then.

23. Currently, there’s one special education teacher for 17.1 students with disabilities.

(Education Week)

Although the education system is paying more attention to students with disabilities, there is still a shortage of special education teachers. As per the latest data, the special education teacher-student ratio is approximately 1:17.

During the past decade, both the percentage of special education teachers and students dropped, yet not in synchronicity — the number of learners with disabilities aged 6–21 has decreased by 1%, while the percentage of competent teachers fell by 17%.

24. California has the highest number of special education teaching jobs in the US.


Apart from being one of the top places for living overall, California is an excellent state for special education teachers. Special education statistics show there are 2,936 job positions for teachers who teach children with disabilities in this state, and the average annual salary is around $53,000.

25. 75.4% of special education teachers are women.


Out of 707,406 teachers who work in the special education sector in the US, 75.4% are women. Furthermore, 75.4% of all special education teachers are White, 9.9% are Hispanic, and 9.9% are Black or African American.

26. The majority of special education teachers (65.4%) speak Spanish.


Facts about special education show Spanish is the most popular language among special education teachers. The second most popular is French (8.3%), followed by Arabic (2.7%). Another 2.6% speak German, and 18.4% speak another language. A small portion of teachers also knows Braille (2.6%).

27. The average special education teacher stays on their job for 1–2 years.


Data shows that 32% of special education teachers stay on the job for no more than two years. Around 20% don’t stay even a year, whereas 14% stay for about 3–4. Another 15% last between 5–7 years, whereas 13% stay 11 or more years.

Special Education Statistics — Final Thoughts

Even though it has seen great progress in recent years, the current special education system needs more improvements. The number of individuals requiring special education is increasing year by year, demanding bigger financial support from the federal government.

Also, we need to reconsider the idea of inclusive classrooms since students with disabilities see very little or no progress at all when studying in general classrooms. According to special education data, this also applies to tertiary education, as more than half of learners with disabilities aim for colleges after finishing high school.

However, we must stress that the situation is much better than several years ago — students with disabilities and their parents now have a say and, together with schools and teachers, can make special education an enjoyable and productive experience.

Special Education Statistics — Frequently Asked Questions