Chronic School Absenteeism Among Children With Selected Developmental Disabilities: National Health Interview Survey, 2014–2016

September 26, 2018

Lindsey Black, NCHS Health Statistician

Questions for Lindsey Black, Health Statistician and Lead Author of “Chronic School Absenteeism Among Children With Selected Developmental Disabilities: National Health Interview Survey, 2014–2016

Q: Why did you decide to focus on chronic school absenteeism among U.S. children with developmental disabilities for this report?

LB: DDs encompass a range of conditions that may have lifelong impacts on the functioning and wellbeing of children. In particular, developmental disabilities (DDs) can affect school adjustment, attendance and academic performance. Previous research has explored the relationships of DDs and school outcomes but have generally been limited in sample size and use aggregate mental health measures, rather than specific conditions.

This study aims to describe chronic school absenteeism among a nationally representative sample of children with selected DDs of autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, other developmental delay and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), in order to identify groups that may need additional supports.

Q: What is meant by chronic school absenteeism?

LB:  School absenteeism was categorized based on the survey question, “During the past 12 months, about how many days did (sample child) miss school because of illness or injury?” Responses of 15 or more days were categorized as chronic school absenteeism based on the U.S. Department of Education definition.

Q: How did the findings vary among the selected developmental disabilities?

LB: In this nationally representative sample of children aged 5–17 years, children with ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and intellectual disability were more likely to have had chronic school absenteeism compared with children who did not have these conditions even after controlling for demographic and selected physical health conditions.

Similarly, as the number of DDs increased, the DDs of chronic school absenteeism increased. These findings show that both the type and number of DDs are associated with school attendance.

Q: What methods did you use to conduct this analysis?

LB: We calculated the weighted percentage of children who had chronic school absenteeism for each of the selected developmental disability groups. Next, separate unadjusted logistic regressions for each of the selected DDs as the dependent variable (and chronic absenteeism as the outcome) were calculated. Multivariate logistic regressions were also used to assess the association between children with selected DDs and chronic school absenteeism, adjusted by selected demographic characteristics and co-occurring physical health conditions.

Q: Is there any comparable trend data on this topic from previous National Health Interview Service data?

LB: This is the first report that specifically looks at chronic school absenteeism among developmental disabilities.  Data on number of school days missed due to illness or injury has been collected among children consistently since 1997.

Q: What is the take home message in this report?

LB: Children with DDs had higher chronic school absenteeism. Associations remained, controlling for demographics and co-occurring physical health conditions.