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National Center for Special Education Research


Preschoolers with Disabilities: Characteristics, Services, and Results:

NCSER 2006-3003
May 2008

Characteristics of Children and Their Families

  • Preschoolers identified with disabilities were disproportionately male, 70 percent versus 30 percent female. Two-thirds (67%) were White, 22 percent Hispanic, and 11 percent Black.2
  • More than one-quarter (27%) of children with disabilities ages 3–5 were from households with income levels of $20,000 or less, and more than one-third (34%) were from households with incomes of more than $50,000. Black children were significantly more likely to be from low-income households than higher income households.
  • Twenty-one percent of fathers and 29 percent of mothers had some college education, while an additional 21 percent of mothers and fathers had a 4-year college degree or higher. Nineteen percent of fathers and mothers had less than a high school diploma or GED.
  • Two-thirds of children with disabilities ages 3–5 (67%) lived with both biological parents. Another 5 percent lived with one biological parent and his/her spouse or partner, and 21 percent lived with one biological parent only. While 73 percent of White children lived with both biological parents, that was true for only 30 percent of Black children.
  • For nearly one-third of preschoolers with disabilities (31%), concerns were raised about their health or development between the ages of 24 and 35 months. For 11 percent, concerns arose during pregnancy or within the first month after birth, and for 10 percent concerns arose in the first year.
  • Twenty-four percent of preschoolers with disabilities were born three or more weeks prematurely. The mean birth weight for preschoolers with disabilities was 6.9 pounds. Children less than 5.5 pounds at birth are typically considered low birth weight. Of children born prematurely, Black children were born significantly earlier than White children, and Black children had significantly lower birth weights than Hispanic children and White children.
  • Nearly half (46%) of preschoolers with disabilities were identified as having a speech or language impairment as their primary disability, and 28 percent were identified as having a developmental delay as their primary disability. Fewer than 10 percent of preschool children were identified as having other disabilities as primary. A significantly higher percentage of White children than Black or Hispanic children were identified as having a speech or language impairment as their primary disability.

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2 Because of small sample sizes, data could not be analyzed by race for Asian, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders or for Native American or Alaska Natives. For reporting purposes, Hispanics of all races are included in the Hispanic group.