Special Needs Fact Sheet

Special Needs: The unique or uncommon concerns created by a person’s medical, mental, developmental, physical condition or disability. Supplementary services are usually needed to aid a person in one or more of the following areas: thinking, communication, movement, social skills, life skills, economic independence and taking care of themselves.  The needs may vary by category and there are four main categories of special needs:

Developmental disability

  • Disabilities that affect daily functioning in areas such as mobility learning, self-care, communication and self-direction.
  • Examples: Autism, Down syndrome, Angelman’s syndrome, etc.


Cognitive or neurological disorder

  • Cognitive disorders deal mainly with memory, perception and problem solving.
  • Examples: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, etc.


Physical disabilities

  • Physical disabilities are broad and cover a range of disabilities and health issues. They may be either congenital or a result of injury and cause the individual to rely on devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, hearing aids or artificial limbs.
  • Examples: Cerebral palsy, Blind, Deaf, Spina Bifida, Spinal cord injuryTraumatic brain injury, Epilepsy, Paralysis, Amputation, etc.


Mental illness

  • Mental illness is a psychological or behavioral disorder that can range from mild to severe. It affects the brain in a manner that influences the way a person thinks, feels, behaves and/or relates to others and to his or her surroundings.
  • Examples:  Bipolar, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Schizophrenia, Drug addiction, etc.



  • Over 56.7 million Americans – 19% of the population – are classified as disabled.1
  • 20 million families have at least one family member who has a disability; and over one third of American households are at least impacted by disability.2
  • Almost 3,000 Americans became disabled every hour or 49 every minute.3
  • Conditions such as ADHD, depression and autism are being more readily diagnosed.4 In addition, the number of people treated with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to reach 13.8 million by 2050.5 In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, every 72 seconds, an American develops the disease.


Tip Sheet


1 US Census Bureau, 2010
2 National Disability Institute, REI Tour Annual Report, 2007-2008
3 National Safety Council, Injury Facts 2010 Ed.
4 US Dept. of Health & Human Services’ The National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs, 2005-2006.
5 U.S. National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging, 2003