Special education: for boys only?

I’ve been writing over the past few days about a report on Kentucky’s special education programs that was given to the legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education on Monday. Until now, my comments have focused on data slides directly discussed in the meeting. However, as I read through the companion report I was absolutely awestruck by a huge imbalance in the different rates of special education enrollment for boys versus girls. Whether we are talking about mental retardation (MR), speech language problems (S/L), emotional behavioral disorders (EBD), other health impairment (OHI), specific learning disability (SLD), multiple disabilities (MD), or development delay (DD) doesn’t matter. As this table, which is an extract from Table 2.4 in the report shows, boys greatly outnumber girls in special education enrollment.

For example, among all students identified as having mental retardation (MR) in Kentucky, 58.5 percent are boys and only 41.5 percent are girls. In most of the disability categories, males are more than twice as likely to be identified as females. For autism, the rate of identification is more than 5.5 times higher for males – a way out of balance situation.

Can it really be that boys face so many more education challenges? Are we grossly under-identifying girls? Is our education system hostile to boys? What’s going on here? Someone better start asking some serious questions.


  1. In my experience as a speech-language pathologist working with children, boys tend to outnumber girls on my caseload by approximately two to one, which is consistent with the figure on the chart you show. Boys do tend to develop speech and language skills later and more slowly than girls, and experience a higher incidence of speech and language disorders. I can't speak to the other categories on the list, however.

  2. Richard Innes says:

    For Robert, SLP,

    As a practitioner, is there any research to indicate why this is so?

    There are general concerns that the educational system doesn't meet the needs of young boys very well, so boys wind up with much higher rates of identification not because they are developing abnormally, but because the system is failing them and unwilling to admit it is a system failure rather than a disability issue.

  3. There may be research on why speech and language disorders are more common in boys, but if there is, I'm not familiar with it.