Poverty and Children With Learning Disabilities

Learning Disabilities - A Struggling Learning Disabled Child Sits Alone at a Desk in School
There are more children with learning disabilities living in poverty than in children from the general population. Learning Disabilities - Photo of a Struggling Learning Disabled Child by Getty Images

Nearly 2.4 million American public school students are identified with a learning disability. There are more children with learning disabilities living in poverty than in children from the general population. Living in low socioeconomic environments increases the chances of poor health, low academic achievement in school, and an increased risk for substance abuse.


The prevalence of learning disabilities in the U.S. population provides evidence that poverty is a likely contributing factor in a young adult with LD’s involvement in the criminal justice system.

Studies show that one in two young adults with LD run into trouble with the law within eight years of leaving high school. One in three individuals has been arrested. According to a study published in the Journal of Communication Disorders, special education students and those with emotional or behavior disorders or learning disabilities are arrested and incarcerated at a higher rate than their nondisabled peers. Nearly 20 percent of the students with emotional and behavioral disorders were arrested while attending secondary school, nearly 13 percent of juvenile offenders had developmental disabilities, and 36 percent had learning disabilities.

Parental Education

In 2013, children who had a parent with a Bachelor’s degree or higher were less likely (5%) to have a learning disability than those with parents who had only a high school diploma (10%) or some college education (8%). Children in poverty and in families that receive public assistance are more likely to be identified as having a learning disability.

In 2013, 12 percent of children living in families below the federal poverty line were identified as having a learning disability, as compared to 6 percent of other children living at or above the poverty line.


Considering the stresses of poverty, such as living conditions, financial strain, lack of adequate child care, and their impact on an a child’s learning ability and overall well-being, it is important for parents and educators to find ways to reduce stress in the home and school environment.

This allows a child’s mind and cognitive functions to develop appropriately and be successful academically at school.


1. Quinn, M., Rutherford, R., Leone, P., Osher, D., and Poirier, J. (2005). Youth with disabilities in juvenile corrections; A national survey. Exceptional Children,  71: 339-45.

2. Rutherford, R., and Nelson, C., (2005). Disability and involvement with the juvenile justice system: Knowing versus doing. Exceptionality , 13(2): 65-67.

3. Child Trends Databank. (2014). Learning disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=learning-disabilities.  

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