One in three special education students in New York City public schools has asthma, compared to just one in five in the general school population, a new study shows.
“That’s a huge number” - it may be that many children in special education are there because they have asthma, co-author Dr. Luz Claudio of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City told Reuters Health. “Managing that disease successfully may remove them from special education.”
The percentage of kids with asthma in special education was as high as 60 percent in some schools, she added.
Low-income urban children are known to be at greater risk of having their asthma under poor control, Claudio noted. “It’s a manageable chronic disease,” she added, but “our findings show that a lot of kids from this group are not well managed.”
To investigate whether there might be a relationship between having asthma and being in special education classes, Claudio and her colleague Jeanette A. Stingone surveyed 24 randomly chosen New York City public elementary schools via parent questionnaires.
On average, 34 percent of students in special education classes had asthma, compared with 19 percent of children in the general school population. The researchers estimated that children with asthma had a 60 percent increased risk of being in special education compared with children without the disease.
Claudio and Stingone also found that children with asthma who were in special education classes were more likely to be low-income and were three times more likely to have been hospitalized for asthma in the past year, compared to children with asthma in regular classes.
Asthmatic in special education were also half as likely to use a peak flow meter (a device that helps patients control asthma by monitoring their lung function) and 15 percent less likely to use a spacer, a device that delivers asthma medication to the lungs.
However, it was not exactly clear why the asthma rates were higher among special education students. While absenteeism due to illness could be one explanation, Claudio noted, the children in the current study with asthma who were in special education classes did not have significantly more school absences than the asthmatic children in regular classes.
“Because children spend so much of their time in school, there is an opportunity for public health interventions during the school day aimed at improving asthma control among children who are at risk or already experience learning difficulties,” the researchers write in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
They are currently evaluating the effectiveness of an asthma management program based at a school in East Harlem, a neighborhood with one of the nation’s highest rates of childhood asthma.
SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, September 2006.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD