Serious Emotional Disturbance and Social Maladjustment: A Critical Examination of Four Schools of Thought

Abstract

Issues related to inclusion of youths with social maladjustment (SM) in the category of serious emotional disturbance (SED) are examined. Differing views advocated in professional literature are conceptualized into four schools of thought: (1) The exclusion perspective conceptualizes SM as behavior disorders and advocates for exclusion from special education services; (2) The delinquence perspective defines SM as delinquent behaviors and excludes virtually all students exhibiting these behaviors from services; (3) The irrelevance perspective advocates for inclusion of youths with SM if they also satisfy the criteria for SED; and (4) The inclusion perspective promotes a broadening of the SED definition to include youths with SM/behavior disorders. Identification and evaluation of these perspectives can enhance communication and lead to more effective services for youths with emotional and behavioral needs. Suggestions to improve communication across these differing perspectives are presented.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Achenbach, T. M. (1985). Assessment and taxonomy of child and adolescent psychopathology. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  2. American Psychiatric Association. (1980). DSM III-Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  3. American Psychiatric Association. (1987). DSM III-R: Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (3rd ed. revised). Washington, DC: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Angold, A., & Costello, E. J. (1993). Depressive comorbidity in children and adolescents: Empirical, theoretical, and methodological issues. American Journal of Psychiatry, 150(12), 1779–1791.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Barnes, T. R., & Forness, S. R. (1982). Learning characteristics of children and adolescents with various psychiatric diagnoses. In R. B. Rutherford, Jr. (Ed), Severe behavior disorders of children and youth. Vol. 5 (pp. 32–41). Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Benson, D., Edwards, L., White, M., & Rosell, J. (1986). Inclusion of socially maladjusted children and youth in the legal definition of the behaviorally disordered population: A debate. Behavioral Disorders, 11, 213–222.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Biederman, J., Faraone, S., Mick, E., & Lelon, E. (1995). Psychiatric comorbidity among referred juveniles with major depression: Fact or artifact? Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 34(5), 579–590.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Bower, E. M. (1982). Defining emotional disturbance: Public policy and research. Psychology in the Schools, 19, 55–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Brandenburg, N. A., Friedman, R. M., & Silver, S. E. (1990). The epidemiology of childhood psychiatric disorders: Recent prevalence findings and methodological issues. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 29, 76–83.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. California Department of Education (1996). California special education programs: A composite of laws (18th ed.). Sacramento, CA: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Caron, C., & Rutter, M. (1991). Comorbidity in child psychopathology: Concepts, issues and research strategies. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32, 1063–1080.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Center, D. B. (1989). Social maladjustment: Definition, identification, and programming. Focus on Exceptional Children, 22(1), 1–12.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Center, D. B. (1990). Social maladjustment: An interpretation. Behavioral Disorders, 15(3), 141–148.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Clarizio, G. F. (1987). Differentiating emotionally impaired from socially maladjusted students. Psychology in the Schools, 24, 237–243.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Clarizio, G. F. (1992a). Social maladjustment and emotional disturbance: Problems and positions I. Psychology in the Schools, 29, 131–140.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Clarizio, G. F. (1992b). Social maladjustment and emotional disturbance: Problems and positions II. Psychology in the Schools, 29, 331–341.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Clarizio, H. F., & Higgins, M. M. (1989). Assessment of severe emotional impairment: Practices and problems. Psychology in the Schools, 26(2), 154–162.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Cline, D. H. (1990). A legal analysis of policy initiatives to exclude handicapped/disruptive students from special education. Behavioral Disorders, 15(3), 159–173.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders. (1987). Position paper on definition and identification of students with behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 13(1), 9–19.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders. (1990). Position paper on the provision of service to children with conduct disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 15(3), 180–189.

    Google Scholar 

  21. DeYoung, M. (1984). Educational diagnostic manual for the seriously emotionally disturbed student. Millbrae, CA: California Association of School Psychologists.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Duncan, B., & Burns, S. (1994). A comprehensive community-based continuum of care: Overall findings from the Butte-Ventura SED Research Project. In C. R. Ellis & N. N. Singh (Eds.) Children and Adolescents with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Virginia Beach Conference. Richmond, VA: Commonwealth Institute for Child and Adolescent Studies, Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Edgar, E., & Siegel, S. (1995). Postsecondary scenarios for troubled and troubling youth. In J. M Kauffman, J. W., Lloyd, D. P. Hallahan, & T. A. Astuto (Eds.), Issues in Educational Placement: Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Forness, S. R. (1988). School characteristics of children and adolescents with depression. Monographs in Behavioral Disorders, 10, 117–203.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Forness, S. R. (1992). Legalism versus professionalism in diagnosing SED in the public schools. School Psychology Review, 21(1), 29–34.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Forness, S., Bennett, L., & Tose, J. (1983). Academic deficits in emotionally disturbed children revisited. Journal of American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 22, 140–144.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Forness, S. R., & Cantwell, D. P. (1982). DSM III Psychiatric diagnoses and special education categories. Journal of Special Education, 16, 56–63.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Forness, S. R., Sinclair, E., & Russell, A. T. (1984). Serving children with emotional or behavior disorders: Implications for educational policy. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 54(1), 22–32.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Forness, S. R., Kavale, K. A., & Lopez, M. (1993). Conduct disorders in school: Special education eligibility and comorbidity. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 1(2), 101–108.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Forness, S. R., & Knitzer, J. (1992). A new proposed definition and terminology to replace “serious emotional disturbance” in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. School Psychology Review, 21(1), 12–20.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Furlong, M. (1993). Schools of thought about SED and social maladjustment. CASP Today, 42, 16–18, 21.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Gibbs, M. S. (1982). Identification and classification of child psychopathology: A pragmatic analysis of traditional approaches. In J. Lachenmeyer & M. S. Gibbs (Eds.), Psychopathology in Childhood. New York: Gardner Press.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Honig v. Doe. 484 U.S. 305, 108 S. Ct. 592, 98 L. Ed. 2d 686 (1988).

  34. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 20 U.S.C. Secs. 1400–1485.

  35. Kauffman, J. (1989). Characteristics of children’s behavior disorders (4th ed.). Columbus, OH: Merrill.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Kazdin, A. E. (1987). Conduct disorders in childhood and adolescent. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Kelly, E. J. (1986). The differential problem sorter: Rationale, procedures, and statistical-clinical values. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Kelly, E. J. (1990). Differential Test of Conduct and Emotional Problems. East Aurora, NY: Slosson.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Kelly, E. J., & Van Vactor, J. C. (1992). Distinguishing between conduct-problem and emotionally disturbed students in elementary school: A five-instrument discriminant analysis. Psychological Reports, 70(1), 311–319.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Kerr, M. M., Nelson, C. M., & Lambert, D. L. (1987). Helping adolescents with learning and behavior problems. Columbus, OH: Merrill.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Kester, S. (1983). DSM III classification by special education categories. In W. Bawden, R. Elliot, P. Hall, S. Kester, & J. Kunz. (Eds.), Eligibility criteria for seriously emotionally disturbed (SED). Los Angeles: S.W.S.E.L.P.A. of Los Angeles County.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Kovacs, M., Paulauskas, S., Gatsonis, C., & Richards, C. (1988). Depressive disorders in childhood III. A longitudinal study of comorbidity with risk for conduct disorders. Journal of Affective Disorders, 15, 205–217.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Lamson, A. (1983). The psychology of juvenile crime. New York: Human Sciences.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Maag, J. W., & Forness, S. R. (1991). Depression in children and adolescents: Identification, assessment and treatment. Focus on Exceptional Children, 24, 1–19.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Mattison, R. E., & Gamble, A. D. (1992). Severity of socially and emotionally disturbed boys’ dysfunction at school and home: Comparison with psychiatric and general population boys. Behavioral Disorders, 17, 219–224.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Mayer, G. R. (1996). Why must behavior intervention plans be based on functional assessments? The California School Psychologist, 1, 29–34.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Melton, G. B., & Spaulding, W. J. (1995). No place to go: Civil commitment of minors. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Meyen, E. L. (1995). Legislative and programmatic foundations of special education. In E. L. Meyen & T. M. Skrtic (Eds.), Special education and student disability: An introduction (4th ed.). Denver, CO: Love.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Murphy, D. M. (1986). The prevalence of handicapping conditions among juvenile delinquents. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 7–17.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. McGinnis, E., & Forness, S. R. (1988). Psychiatric diagnosis: A further test of the special education eligibility hypothesis. In R. B. Rutherford, Jr. & J. W. Maag (Eds.), Severe Behavior Disorders of Children and Youth (Vol. 11, 3–10). Reston, VA: Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Nelson, C. M. (1992). Searching for meaning in the behavior of antisocial pupils, public school educators, and lawmakers. School Psychology Review, 21(1), 35–39.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Nelson, C. M., & Rutherford, R. B. (1990). Troubled youth in public schools: Emotionally disturbed or socially maladjusted. In P. Leone (Ed.), Understanding troubled and troubling youth (pp. 38–60). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Office of Special Education Programs (1993). Fourteenth annual report to Congress. Washington, D.C.: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Oswald, D. P., & Coutinho, M. J. (1995). Identification and placement of students with serious emotional disturbance: I. Correlates of state child-count data. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 3(4), 224–229.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Puig-Antich, J. (1982). Major depression and conduct disorder in pre-puberty. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 21, 118–128.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Quay, H. C. (1979). Classification. In H. Quay & J. Werry (Eds.), Psychopathological disorders of childhood (2nd ed., pp. 1–10). New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Raiser, L., & Van Nagel, C. V. (1980). The loophole in Public Law 94-142. Exceptional Children, 46, 516–520.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  58. Russell, A. T., Bott, L., & Sammons, C. (1989). Phenomenology of schizophrenia occurring in childhood. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 28, 399–407.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Rutherford, R., Nelson, C., & Wolford, B. (1985). Special education in the most restrictive environment: Correctional special education. Journal of Special Education, 19, 59–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Skiba, R., & Grizzle, K. (1991). The social maladjustment exclusion: Issues of definition and assessment. School Psychology Review, 20(4), 580–598.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Skiba, R., & Grizzle, K. (1992). Qualifications v. logic and data: Excluding conduct disorders from the SED definition. School Psychology Review, 21(1), 23–28.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Skiba, R., Grizzle, K., & Minke, K. M. (1994). Opening the floodgates? The social maladjustment exclusion and state SED prevalence rates. Journal of School Psychology, 32(3), 267–282.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Slenkovich, J. E. (1983). PL 94-142 as applied to DSM HI diagnoses in special education law. Cupertino, CA: Kinghorn Press.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Slenkovich, J. E. (1992a). Can the language of “social maladjustment” in the SED definition be ignored? School Psychology Review, 21(1), 21–22.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Slenkovich, J. E. (1992b). Can the language of “social maladjustment” in the SED definition be ignored? The final words. School Psychology’ Review, 21(1), 43–44.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Stephens, S. A., Lakin, K. C., Brauen, M., & O’Reilly, F. (1990). The study of programs of instruction for handicapped children and youth in day and residential facilities. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education and Mathematical Policy Research.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Tharinger, D. J., Laurent, J., & Best, L. R. (1986). Classification of children referred for emotional and behavioral problems: A comparison of the PL 94-142 SED criteria, DSM III, and the CBCL system. Journal of School Psychology, 24, 111–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Tibbetts, T. J., Pike, T. R., & Welch, N. (1986). Identification and assessment of the seriously emotionally disturbed child. Sacramento, CA: State Department of Education.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Weinberg, L. A., & Weinberg, C. (1990). Seriously emotionally disturbed or socially maladjusted? A critique of interpretations. Behavioral Disorders, 15(3), 149–158.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Wierson, M., Forehand, R. L., & Frame, C. L. (1992). Epidemiology and treatment of mental health problems in juvenile delinquents. Advanced Behavior Research and Therapy, 14, 93–120.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Wilson, G. T. (1989). Behavior therapy. In R. J. Corsinis & D. Wedding (Eds.), Current psychotherapies 4th ed. (pp. 241–282). Itasca, IL: F. E. Peacock.

    Google Scholar 

  72. Zirkel, P. A. (1992). Mutuality, mountains, and molehills. School Psychology Review, 21(1), 40–42.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael J. Furlong.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Rosenblatt, J.A., Furlong, M.J. Serious Emotional Disturbance and Social Maladjustment: A Critical Examination of Four Schools of Thought. Contemp School Psychol 2, 5–30 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03341095

Download citation

Keywords

  • Special Education
  • Behavior Disorder
  • Delinquent Behavior
  • Conduct Disorder
  • Emotional Disturbance