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Participation and Activity Limitation Survey: Education experiences of children with disabilities

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The Daily

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More than 40% of Canadian children with disabilities aged 5 to 14 received some form of special education during the 2005/2006 school year, roughly the same proportion as reported in 2000/2001, according to a new report.

The report, based on data from the 2006 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS), assessed the educational experiences of children aged 5 to 14 with activity limitations ranging from learning disabilities to mobility activity limitations.

Survey data showed that 163,730 children with disabilities attended school in 2005/2006. Of this group, 43.1%, or 70,600, were attending special education classes. The majority, 62.4%, attended these classes on a part-time basis, while the remainder attended on a full-time basis.

The vast majority of parents reported learning disabilities as the most common condition requiring special education for their children.

Some children had more than one activity limitation that required such accommodation. For example, more than half required accommodations due to speech or language difficulties, developmental disabilities, or emotional, psychological or behavioural conditions.

The survey found that the prevalence of disability among children has increased during the past five years. In 2006, roughly 4.6% of Canadian children aged 5 to 14 had one or more disabilities, up from 4.0% in 2001. The rate was higher among boys.

The survey gathered information on these children through interviews with their parents or guardians. The respondents' answers to the questions on disability represented their perception of the situation and were, therefore, subjective.

Met and unmet needs: Special education

In 2006, almost 60% of parents of children with disabilities attending either regular or special classes at a regular school believed that their child required special education services. The majority of these children were already receiving special education, but not all children aged 5 to 14 with disabilities received special education when they needed it, in the opinion of their parents, the survey found.

Survey data showed that about 36,600 children with disabilities, whose parents believed that there was a need for special education, did not in fact receive this type of schooling. This was roughly one-quarter (24.3%) of children with disabilities who were attending school.

Nearly half of the children in this group that did not receive special education had severe or very severe disabilities, and nearly two-thirds had undergone a professional assessment of their educational needs.

A small proportion of children were receiving special education even though their parents considered it to be unnecessary. They may have been following recommendations from school staff or health care professionals, but believed that their child's needs could still be met without the aid of special education services.

Note to readers

The Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS) is a national survey designed to collect information on adults and children who have a disability, that is, whose everyday activities are limited because of a condition or health problem. It is funded by Human Resources and Social Development Canada and conducted by Statistics Canada.

PALS provides essential information on the prevalence of various disabilities, support for persons with disabilities, their employment profile, their income and their participation in society.

Data on people with disabilities were last collected in 2001, when the previous PALS survey was conducted. The 2006 PALS provides information on trends in the numbers and situations of persons with disabilities over the previous five years. As well, some new content has been introduced to the survey to reflect changing technology and emerging policy and program needs.

For the purpose of PALS, persons with disabilities are those who reported difficulties with daily living activities, or who indicated that a physical or mental condition or a health problem reduced the kind or amount of activities that they could do.

The survey sampled about 48,000 individuals, of whom about 39,000 were adults and 9,000 children. The population covered by the survey consisted of people living in private and some collective households in all provinces and territories. People living in institutions and on First Nation reserves were excluded.

Accessibility of special education services

Among children who required special education or who attended a special school, nearly half (49.0%) had parents who reported experiencing difficulty obtaining special education services.

The proportions were similar among children enrolled in special education classes or in regular classes.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of parents of children with very severe disabilities reported challenges in obtaining special education for their child. This proportion decreased as the severity of disability lessened from severe to moderate.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, less than one-third of children with mild disabilities had parents who experienced difficulty obtaining these services.

Parents of children with psychological, emotional or behavioural conditions were more likely to report difficulty obtaining special education for their child.

For most parents, difficulties were related to a lack of available special education services and staff. More than one-half reported problems having their child tested for special education services.

Met and unmet needs: Educational aids

Educational supports or services that assist the child with learning and classroom participation include tutors, teacher's aides, special software, and attendant care services. Children who require additional educational aids, regardless of whether they currently use other aids, are considered to have unmet needs for these services or devices.

The majority of children with disabilities had their educational needs met to some degree. Among children aged 5 to 14 with disabilities who were in special classes in 2005/2006, 90% or nearly 62,400 were using one or more educational aids.

However, many did not have the aids that they required at school. More than one in five children who attended special education classes, over 14,700, needed one or more educational aids.

The proportion of children entirely without educational aids, but in need of them, was quite small in 2006, only 3.4%. Nonetheless, this represented nearly 5,500 children in Canada who were not receiving any supports, in the form of educational aids, necessary for their full involvement in the educational system.

On average, children with very severe disabilities used more than twice as many aids as children with mild and moderate disabilities, and nearly 50% more aids than children with severe disabilities. The fact that children with more severe disabilities tend to require a greater number of aids may explain the higher rate of unmet needs for this group.

Three-quarters of parents (75.3%) cited a lack of funding within the school system as a reason that their child did not receive the necessary educational aids.

Trends for the provinces and territories

Nearly one-half (48.7%) of children aged 5 to 14 with disabilities in Ontario received some form of special education service during the 2005/2006 school year, the highest proportion among the provinces and territories. This was above the national average of 43.1%.

Four provinces were below the national average: Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Manitoba.

About 34% of children with disabilities in Quebec did not receive special education, but needed special education in the opinion of their parents. This was also above the national average of 24.3%.

Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba had proportions of children whose parents reported unmet needs for special education that were significantly below the national average.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3251.

The publication The 2006 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey: Disability in Canada, no. 4 (89-628-XWE, free), is now available from the Publications module of our website.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Krista Kowalchuk (613-951-0784), Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.