Who is Identified as Emotionally/Behaviorally Disordered? (page 4)
Each of us can close our eyes and form a picture of "learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered." We may imagine the bully who taunted us in the fourth grade, the sad sophomore who attempted suicide, or the hyperactive first grader who was always in trouble in the classroom for not sitting still or not doing his work. The vignettes presented at the beginning of this chapter demonstrate the diversity that exists among learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered and their presenting behaviors.
In this article, some of the common characteristics of learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disorders are described. Although there are some similarities between learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered, individuals within this group vary a great deal. The reader is encouraged to focus attention on the diversity between learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered.
They Are More Likely To Be Boys than Girls
Four times as many boys as girls are identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered. (Singth, Landrum, Donatelli, Hampton, & Ellis, 1994; Wagner et al., 1991). In a large national sample of adolescents identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered, only 21% were female (Cullinan, Epstein, & Sabornie, 1992). Boys far outnumbered girls among learners identified and served as emotionally/behaviorally disordered in public school programs and among learners both identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered in public schools and receiving mental health services outside of the schools (Caseau, Luckasson, & Kroth, 1994).
Girls outnumbered boys, however, among learners not identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered by the public schools but receiving mental health services outside of the school (Caseau et al., 1994). It appears that. compared to boys, girls were more likely to have serious problems with depression, family conflict, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. Apparently, these girls had problems severe enough to warrant identification as emotionally/behaviorally disordered at home and in the community, but not of the type that would warrant such identification at school. The girls who did receive services in public schools exhibited acting out behaviors similar to those of boys.
The long-term postschool outcomes of girls and boys identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered also differ. Levine and Edgar (1995) reported that becoming pregnant and parenting were serious problems confronting girls. Girls with disabilities are five times more likely than their counterparts without disabilities to be parenting. Parenting had a significant impact on the ability of girls to participate in postsecondary education programs.
They Usually Have Difficulty Achieving in School
Almost half (44.6%) of learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered in the United States in the 1989-90 school year failed one or more courses in the previous year of high school, far more than students with communication disorders (35%) or learning disabilities (34.8%) (U.S. Department of Education, 1992). The reading achievement of learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered has been reported to be significantly lower (1.5 to 2 grade levels) than that of their peers in elementary school, and even lower by the time they reach high school (3.5 grade levels) (Coutinho, 1986).
Learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered receive lower grades than any other disability group and are retained at grade level more often. In addition, they fail minimum competency examinations more frequently than learners with other disabilities. Of those students identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered taking minimum competency tests (22% were exempted), 63% failed some part of the examination (U.S. Department of Education, 1994). High school students identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered have a mean grade point average of 1. 7 (on a 4-point scale), compared to 2.0 for all learners with disabilities, and 2.6 for all students (Wagner et al., 1991).
Learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered are the most likely of all learners with identified disabilities to drop out of school. The percentage of learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered, 14 years and older, graduating with a high school diploma or certificate has decreased from 8.82% of all learners in the 1988-89 school year to 7.84% in 1992-93. Fifty percent of learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered drop out of school, most by the 10th grade. Fifty-eight percent leave school without graduating (Wagner, 1991). Among learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered, 42% graduate as compared to 56% of all learners with disabilities and 71% of all learners (Wagner et al., 1991).
The National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students (NLTS) reported similar results. The graduation rate for students identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered is second lowest; only learners with multiple disabilities have a lower rate.
The dropout rate of students identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered is the highest among the disability groups; learners with learning disabilities have the next highest dropout rate at 32.3%. Among students with disabilities, the percentage of students identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered who age out of school is relatively low, but is the highest in suspension and expulsion. According to NLTS dropping out of school is the culmination of a cluster of school performance problems, including high absenteeism and poor grade performance. Students identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered had the highest rate of absenteeism among all learners with disabilities (17.7 days a year) and the highest likelihood of failing a course (43.9%) (U.S. Office of Education, 1992).
They May Have Learning Problems or Communication Disorders
Many learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered may have learning problems or communication disorders. Although the early work of Morse, Cutler, and Fink (1964) suggested that learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered had above average cognitive ability, more recent studies indicate that these learners exhibit average or lower than average measured cognitive abilities when compared to their typical peers (Coleman, 1986). Learners with more severe behavioral disorders exhibit intelligence quotients in the mentally retarded range (Freeman & Ritvo, 1984).
In one study, 97% of the learners identified as demonstrating mild to moderate emotional/behavioral disorders fell more than one standard deviation below the mean on an individually administered test of language (Camarata, Hughes, & Ruhl, 1988). The pattern of these learners' language problems was consistent with the pattern of learners identified as learning disabled. After studying the communication performance of adolescents identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered and their nonidentified peers, Rosenthal and Simeonsson (1991) suggested that communication deficits may be a central feature of emotional/behavioral disorders.
Fessler, Rosenberg, and Rosenberg (1991) reported that more than 37% of learners in their sample were identified as both learning disabled and emotionally/behaviorally disordered. Teachers rated the academic achievement of learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered at a level equal to that of learners identified as learning disabled (Luebke, Epstein, & Cullinan, 1989).
Many learners identified with a primary disability other than emotional/behavioral disorders, such as mental retardation, orthopedically impaired, and visually impaired, often demonstrate challenging behaviors. Identification as having a primary disability, however, precludes identification as "emotionally/behaviorally disordered" according to current definitions.
Their Social Skills and Interactions Vary from Those of Their Peers
The most frequently stated reasons for learners to be identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered are (a) poor peer relationships, (b) frustration, (c) low academic achievement, (d) shy and withdrawn behavior, (e) disruptive behavior, (f) fighting, (g) refusal to work, and (h) short attention span. Poor peer relationships was the most frequent reason for referral among both boys and girls (Hutton, 1985).
Learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered vary from their counterparts with disabilities in terms of social interactions. In a full-inclusion setting, Sale and Carey (1995) documented that students with physical disabilities received significantly more "liked-most" nominations than any other group of students. Learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered, however, had the lowest "liked-most" scores, being the least frequently nominated in positive situations and the most frequently nominated in negative situations.
One pervasive problem of learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered, which may contribute to their being "least-liked," is aggression (Hughes, 1985). In their study, Epstein, Kauffman, and Cullinan (1985) found the most persistent pattern of behavior reported among the learners identified as having emotional/behavioral disorders to be aggression.
They Are Less Likely To Live with Both Parents
In a large national sample, Cullinan et al. (1992) found that one third of adolescents identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered lived with both parents, whereas two thirds of adolescents not identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered lived with both parents. Students identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered have a higher rate of living in one-parent families than students of any other disability classification (Wagner & Shaver, 1989).
Other Demographic Characteristics
Demographic and economic factors may influence the number of students identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered (Wagner et al., 1991; Oswald & Coutinho, 1995). In school districts, the amount of per pupil revenue was the strongest single predictor of the rate at which learners were identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered. As district revenue increased, the likelihood of identification increased. State and local evaluation and multidisciplinary team procedures may also have an impact on identification rates, as well as the availability of both a full continuum of placement settings and of comprehensive services offered by mental health service providers (Oswald & Coutinho, 1995).
One would assume that learners admitted to a psychiatric hospital for service would be identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered by their schools. However, in a study by Singth et al. (1994), almost half—46%—of the learners receiving inpatient psychiatric services and partial hospitalization were not identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered by their schools. These nonidentified learners were served in general education classrooms. Ten percent of these learners were found to have other disabilities. Their average age of hospital admission was 11.6 years. African American students were overrepresented in the sample of nonidentified students, with only 56% of the learners admitted to hospitalization being Caucasian. Significant issues for these learners were alcohol abuse (80%) and drug abuse (85%).
Cultural differences may have an impact on the identification of learners with emotional/behavioral disorders, working against some children in opposite ways. On the one hand, many professionals are unaware of the impact of culture on behavior and may mistake cultural differences for emotional/behavioral disorders. On the other hand, learners from diverse cultural, ethnic, or linguistic groups may not be identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered when they are in need of services. McIntyre (1993) found that learners may risk being denied special education support as emotionally/behaviorally disordered if they are members of an historically oppressed minority (African American, Hispanic American) or from low income households. Under the original federal definition (discussed later in this chapter) groups were mislabeled due to cultural differences and home circumstances; under the current definitions culturally diverse students will be provided extra safeguards against incorrect identification (McIntyre, 1993).
African American learners are also overrepresented among learners identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered. This continues to be a concern for special education. The overrepresentation of African Americans as emotionally/behaviorally disordered has been found to occur when there was also overrepresentation of African Americans as learning disabled and underrepresentation of African Americans as "gifted" (Sewartka, Deering, & Grant, 1995).
The rate of identification of learners as emotionally/behaviorally disordered varies across racial, cultural, gender, and socioeconomic lines. African American and Caucasian students are overrepresented: they represent 16% and 68% of school age enrollment respectively, and 22% and 71% of the students classified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered. On the other hand, Hispanic American and Asian American students represent 12% and 3% of the school-age population respectively, but only 6% and 1% of the students classified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered (U.S. Department of Education, OCR 1993)
Finally, students identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered have significant involvement with the juvenile justice system. Twenty percent are arrested at least once before they leave school and 35% are arrested within a few years of leaving school (Wagner et al., 1991).
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