We investigated the prevalence of receipt of special education services among children with congenital heart defects (CHDs) compared with children without birth defects.


Children born from 1982 to 2004 in metropolitan Atlanta with CHDs (n = 3744) were identified from a population-based birth defect surveillance program; children without birth defects (n = 860 715) were identified from birth certificates. Cohorts were linked to special education files for the 1992–2012 school years to identify special education services. Children with noncardiac defects or genetic syndromes were excluded; children with CHDs were classified by presence or absence of critical CHDs (ie, CHDs requiring intervention by age one year). We evaluated the prevalence of receipt of special education services and prevalence rate ratios using children without birth defects as a reference.


Compared with children without birth defects, children with CHDs were 50% more likely to receive special education services overall (adjusted prevalence rate ratio [aPRR] = 1.5; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.4–1.7). Specifically, they had higher prevalence of several special education categories including: intellectual disability (aPRR = 3.8; 95% CI: 2.8–5.1), sensory impairment (aPRR = 3.0; 95% CI: 1.8–5.0), other health impairment (aPRR = 2.8; 95% CI: 2.2–3.5), significant developmental delay (aPRR = 1.9; 95% CI: 1.3–2.8), and specific learning disability (aPRR = 1.4; 95% CI: 1.1–1.7). For most special education services, the excess prevalence did not vary by presence of critical CHDs.


Children with CHDs received special education services more often than children without birth defects. These findings highlight the need for special education services and the importance of developmental screening for all children with CHDs.

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