Change Indicator

Children with special health care needs in United States

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Definition and Source



The share of children under age 18 who are at increased risk of a chronic physical, developmental, behavioral, or emotional condition, and who also require health and related services of a type or amount beyond that required by children generally.
Children with special health care needs are defined based on the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau's definition. The parent is asked the following 5 questions: Does the child currently need prescription medications? Does the child need more medical care, mental health care, or educational services than his or her peers? Is the child limited in his or her ability to do things? Does the child need physical, occupational, or speech therapy? Does the child have an emotional, developmental, or behavioral problem? Each question is followed up with the parent being asked whether the condition is expected to last for 12 months or more and whether the condition is due to a medical, behavioral, or other health condition. If the answer to one (or more) of the conditions is yes and the answers to the follow up questions for that condition(s) are also yes, then the child is defined as having special health care needs.

Data Source

National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs, Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

The state-level data used here come from the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH). The NSCH includes information on over 102,000 children under age 18, with roughly 2,000 children per state. Households were selected through a random-digit-dial sample, and one child was randomly selected in each household. Information on each child is based on responses of the parent or guardian in the household who was most knowledgeable about the sampled child’s health. Information was collected via a computer-assisted telephone interview. For more information on the NSCH, see

Data for the 2011-2012 NSCH were collected February 2011 through June 2012. Additionally, cell phones were contacted for the first time in 2011-2012, so trend comparisons should be made with caution.


Updated August 2013.
N.A. - Data not available.

Last Updated

August 2013