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Am J Public Health. 1998 Jun;88(6):880-6.

Children in special education programs: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, use of services, and unmet needs.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of California at Los Angeles, USA. regina@hpe.ufl.edu



Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a common psychiatric condition, may impair a child's ability to learn and to form social relationships, tasks critical to healthy development. This study describes the prevalence of the disorder among children in special education programs and identifies the extent and predictors of unmet service needs.


A 2-stage screening protocol of a countywide population of second- through fourth-grade students in special education was conducted to (1) screen for ADHD, employing standardized parent and teacher questionnaires, and determine health services use (n = 499) and (2) perform diagnostic assessments of ADHD (n = 318).


Almost half of the children qualified for a diagnosis of ADHD, yet only half of those were reportedly receiving care for the condition, mainly in the general health care sector. Girls were more than 3 times as likely as boys to have unmet service needs; minority status, low income, and health maintenance organization coverage also emerged as possible risk factors for unmet service needs.


ADHD is a common yet often untreated condition among children in special education. Mental health services for children with this disorder should be integrated with general health care and special education programs.

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