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Delinquency Among Adolescents with Disabilities

Abstract

This study expands upon previous research by utilizing nationally representative data and multivariate analyses to examine the relationship between an adolescent’s disability status and their likelihood of engaging in a spectrum of delinquent behaviors through age 16. Logistic regression models of 7,232 adolescents from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 are used to investigate the association between the presence of a learning disability or emotional condition, chronic health condition, sensory condition, physical disability, or multiple conditions and ten delinquent acts, including violence-related delinquency, property crimes, drug offenses, and arrest. Additional analyses explore differences in delinquency prevalence by more specific types of limiting conditions. Results indicate that adolescents with learning disabilities or emotional conditions are particularly at risk of committing delinquent acts. Findings suggest that disability status is important to consider when examining adolescent delinquency; however, not all youth with disabilities have equal experiences.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Adolescents who reported committing any of items in the delinquency index were asked to report the age in which they first committed this behavior for every item except stealing something less than $50. Parents who reported any limiting condition for their children were also asked, “How old was [this youth] when the [limiting condition] was first noticed?”. As it is impossible to determine if – among the excluded sample of adolescents where first disability was noticed after first delinquent act – disability onset occurred earlier but was unnoticed by the parent or if delinquent behavior caused a limiting condition, we choose the more conservative approach of excluding these adolescents from the analysis entirely.

  2. 2.

    Parents who reported a learning or emotional condition were also asked if their child had “mental retardation” or “an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia”. Due to the small number of youth in each of these categories (less than 5 cases each in the final sample) and the different limitations associated with these conditions, we exclude these youth from the analysis.

  3. 3.

    Two variables measuring age in months as of the first and last used interview are included to control for variation in exposure time. The age 17 interview is used for respondents who are not interviewed during age 16. Alternative coding schemes for the exposure variables and the dependent variables are examined to explore the robustness of the relationship between disability and delinquent activity. Results are highly comparable across schemes.

  4. 4.

    As previously discussed, NLSY97 allows us to distinguish the age when the youth first committed most delinquent acts and the age when their parent first noticed each limiting condition. However, data on these potentially mediating protective factors is more sporadic. For example, information about teacher attachment and involvement with delinquent or prosocial peers (Piquero et al. 2005) refers to the adolescent’s experience at the time of first interview, when the respondents range in age from 12 to 16. Questions about parental monitoring and the perceived quality of the parent-youth relationship follow a similar scheme. As many respondents report that their first delinquent acts occurred before the first interview, and prior literature indicates that adolescents who have committed delinquent acts also have lower school performance, more delinquent friends, and less positive parental dynamics (Kaplan et al. 1987; Thornberry et al. 1991; Elliott and Menard 1992; Jang and Smith 1997), we do not feel it is appropriate to include these indicators in our analysis of delinquency through age 16.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by Grant # 5 U01 HD37614 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

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Correspondence to Carrie L. Shandra.

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Shandra, C.L., Hogan, D.P. Delinquency Among Adolescents with Disabilities. Child Ind Res 5, 771–788 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-012-9135-9

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Keywords

  • Disability
  • Health conditions
  • Delinquency
  • Adolescence
  • Transition to adulthood