Perceptions of Gender Differences in the Expression of Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities

Article excerpt

Abstract

Few resources identify specific needs and interventions for girls with emotional and behavioral disabilities (EBD). This qualitative analysis asks fifteen teacher and counselor professionals about their perceptions of girls with EBD through semi-structured interviews. Six emergent themes from the analysis are discussed. The results demonstrate that further research is needed in the areas of understanding the hidden nature of girls' issues, girls' minority status in special education, girls' physical behaviors, and girls' unique peer issues. Additionally, issues of the language used to describe girls with EBD and professionals' perceptions of the difficulty of working with troubled girls are considered.

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In working with teachers and administrators in the field of emotional and behavioral disabilities (EBD), the comment is often heard, "I really think girls are somehow more difficult to work with than boys." While not universal, this sentiment is echoed in the writings of Baines and Alder (1999), Chesney-Lind and Okamoto (2000), and internationally in the field of juvenile justice (see Artz, 2005 for a discussion). How does this perception influence teachers' understanding of the needs of girls with EBD? The present exploratory qualitative study of professionals' perceptions of working with girls with EBD provides an in-depth portrait from a 15-person sample. Through examining the perceptions of a small group of teachers and counselors, this study begins to identify teacher education issues and provides suggestions for future interventions studies for girls with EBD.

Unique Needs of Girls

Many researchers have discussed the unique needs of girls in our society. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) (1992, 1998) has published reports discussing the inherent bias in schools against girls. Published literature from the field of education highlights the learning differences between girls and boys (Gurian & Ballew, 2003) as well as the differing relationships teachers have with each gender (Sadker & Sadker, 1994). In the field of psychology, researchers have investigated: (1) girls' unique developmental needs especially during adolescence (Gilligan, 1993; Orenstein, 1994); (2) social/relational aggression (Crick & Zahn-Waxler; Underwood, 2003); and (3) unique manifestations of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Conduct Disorder, and Mood Disorders (see Bell, Foster, & Mash, 2005 for a discussion). In the field of juvenile justice, researchers cite the need for gender responsive programming as the number of females in the corrections systems grows (Bloom, Owen, Deschenes, & Rosenbaum, 2002). In popular literature, girls in groups are being analyzed for the undetected aggression of "mean" or "queen" girls (Simmons, 2002). Few resources, however, whether conceptual or research based, deal directly with girls and behavior in education or girls identified as having an emotional or behavioral disability.

Girls with EBD

Research pertaining to special education programming for girls with EBD is considerably rare (Cullinan, Osborne, & Epstein, 2004; Kann & Hanna, 2000; Vardill & Calvert, 2000). Girls with emotional disturbance make up 15% to 25% of all identified children and adolescents with disabilities (Cullinan et al., 2004). Though national data compiled in the Annual Report to Congress on special education is not classified by gender, state data reveals large variation in the numbers of girls identified with emotional and behavioral disorders (Oswald, 2005). Interestingly, the rate of identification for girls begins to increase during adolescence and reflects that of boys during adolescence (Callahan, 1994; Oswald, Best, Coutinho, & Nagle, 2003).

A myriad of factors contribute to the underidentification of girls for EBD services. Kann and Hanna (2000) posit that the existing processes and tools used in schools to identify girls with EBD may not accurately detect girls' internalizing expressions of disabilities. …