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The Number of Kansas Students with Disabilities is Increasing




TOPEKA, Kan. – The number of Kansas students identified with disabilities under federal and state special education laws has increased nearly as much since 2005 as total student enrollment in public schools.

The “headcount” of students with disabilities, regardless of how much time they spend in special services, increased by 13,015. This number is nearly as much as the increase in the headcount enrollment of all public-school students, which was 13,796. The “incidence rate,” which means special education students as a percentage of all students, increased from 14 percent to 16.3 percent.

Although the costs of providing special education services vary significantly by the type of services a student needs, on average, the cost is much higher than regular education because of the need for smaller student groups, additional and more specialized staff, and special programs.

Here are the areas where special education numbers are rising the fastest and some reasons why.

Developmentally Delayed

14,945 students, increased by 9,559 since 2005 (177%)

Only applies to children aged nine and younger, including children aged 3-5 not enrolled in kindergarten, based on a documented deviation from average development in one or more of developmental areas that require special education and related services: (A) physical; (B) cognitive; (C) adaptive behavior; (D) communication; or (E) social or emotional development.

This increase is the most significant growth in students with disabilities. Reasons for the increase in disability numbers among young children include:

  • Schools contacting students at younger ages through expanded public preschool programs

  • Cooperation with daycare providers

  • More parental awareness.

However, some educators report that more students who have not been in any preschool or childcare program arrive at kindergarten with special education needs.


5,928 students, increased by 4,530 since 2005 (324%)

The second largest increase by number and largest by percentage. Autism is a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally clear before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance and may limit and impair everyday functioning.

The increase in autism is a well-documented national trend. One likely reason is that many students previously diagnosed with an intellectual disability are now considered autistic. In Kansas, the number of students identified as ID has decreased by over 1,500, or 20 percent) since 2005. Experts suggest that more children with milder cases have been identified, and parents are more likely to seek identification and aid. Finally, there may be other causes not fully recognized or understood.

Specific Learning Disability

27,118, students, 2,722 increase since 2005 (11%)

These students have a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, including perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. This results from a difference in how a person’s brain is “wired.” Despite having an average or above-average level of intelligence, some individuals need help learning basic academic skills for successful reading, writing, listening, speaking, or math.

One reason for the increase has been the increasing focus by the State Legislature, State Board of Education, educators and parents for earlier screening for dyslexia.

Other Health Impairments

9,021 students, 1,747 increase since 2005 (24%)

Students with limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli that is due to chronic or acute health problems, including asthma, attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette syndrome.

A significant reason for the increase in this area is more diagnoses of ADD and ADHD. As in other cases, this increase is happening nationally and may be driven by increased awareness and more parental requests due to less stigma. There may also be environmental and other factors.

Multiple Disabilities

848 students, 333 increase since 2005 (65%)

These students have coexisting impairments that, in combination, cause severe educational needs that cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for one of the impairments, which omits deaf-blindness.

This category is one of the smallest by number, even after a reasonably significant percentage increase, but has some students with the highest needs. One reason for the rise may be the advanced medical treatment that enables children to live longer and attend school.

Some Categories have Decreased

While the number of Kansas students in the categories mentioned has increased by almost 19,000, students in other areas declined by over 5,000.

The following categories have decreased in number since 2005:

  • Deaf-Blind: 26, a decrease of 3 since 2005 (-10%)

  • Visual Impairments: 229, a decrease of 15 (-6%)

  • Traumatic Brain Injury: 153, a decrease of 66 (-30%)

  • Hearing Impairments: 600, a decrease of 67 since 2005 (-10%)

  • Orthopedic Impairments: 231, a decrease of 265 (-53%)

  • Emotional Disturbance: 2,794, a decrease of 1,405 (-33%)

  • Intellectual Disabilities: 3,518, a decrease of 1,522 (-30%)

  • Speech / Language: 12,862, a decrease of 2,533 (-16%).

These areas may have decreased partly because of higher identification in other categories and earlier identification and services.