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 approximately 50,000 children under age 18, with representative samples for each state. For more information on the NSCH, see


S - Estimates suppressed when the 95% confidence interval is greater than 20 percentage points or 1.2 times the estimate.
N.A. – Data not available.
Percentages exclude missing data. Weighted percentages were applied to the estimates of those missing to derive overall estimates for the number of children.

Last Updated

May 2023