After decades of what seemed to be an inexorable upward path, the number of students classified as learning-disabled declined from year to year over much of the past decade—a change in direction that is spurring debates among experts about the reasons why.It's worth being clear that the number in question is the "specific learning disability" category.
To look at a fuller range of numbers, from 2000-01 to 2007-08, the relevant Digest of Education Statistics table of national numbers shows four declines:
- 10 percent decline in students identified with specific learning disabilities (from 2,868 to 2,573 thousand students)
- 20 percent in mental retardation (from 624 to 500 thousand students)
- 19 percent in orthopedic impairment (from 83 to 67 thousand students)
- 8 percent in emotional disturbance (from 483 to 442 thousand students)
The same years saw increases of:
- 216 percent in autism from 94 to 296 thousand students)
- 112 percent in other health impairments* (from 303 to 641 thousand students)
- 101 percent in developmental delay (from 178 to 358 thousand students)
- 57 percent in traumatic brain injury (from 16 to 25 thousand students)
- 4 percent in multiple disabilities (from 133 to 138 thousand students)
- 3 precent in speech or language impairments (from 1,409 to 1,456 thousand students)
- 1 percent in hearing impairments, visual impairments and deaf-blind (from 108 to 110 thousand students)
- 5 percent in all disabilities (from 6,296 to 6,606 thousand students)
* The table adds this definition: "Other health impairments include having limited strength, vitality, or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems such as a heart condition, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, nephritis, asthma, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, epilepsy, lead poisoning, leukemia, or diabetes."