Adolescent High Risk Behavior: A Look at Regular Education, Learning Disabled, and Continuation High School Students

Article excerpt

This project examined the link between student status (i.e., regular education, learning disabled, and continuation high schoolers) and involvement in high risk behaviors. 251 students responded to demographic items requesting information on the number of felonies committed and the frequency of alcohol and drug use. Chi-square tests of association supported a significant relation between student status and participation in high risk behavior. The results of this project indicate a need to consider the specific predictors of involvement in high risk behaviors, as well as, a need to consider group differences in high risk behavior.

High risk behaviors, notably drug and/or alcohol use and criminal activities, tend to begin in adolescence. Despite the upheavals of this particular time frame, the majority of children pull through adolescence with little or no consequence and continue on to achieve a full and productive adult life. Children with learning disabilities, in general, are not always as fortunate as their non-learning disabled peers. Learning disabled (LD) children tend to experience more stress during adolescence due to an increased rate of academic failure (see Morrison & Cosden, 1997), a reduced sphere of social and emotional adjustment (see Epstein, Cullinan, & Lloyd, 1986), a lessened degree of self esteem (see Patten, 1983), and higher levels of depression (see Huntington & Bender, 1993). As a result, children with learning disabilities are often put into resource programs within their own schools, yet apart from their regular education peers (RE), in an effort to assist them on a more individual basis in achieving academic success, bolstering their self esteem, and preventing them from participating in high risk behavior.

For these LD students, feelings of isolation, as well as, poor social and emotional functioning are thought to increase the likelihood of participation in delinquent behaviors (Perlmutter, Crocker, Cordray, & Garstecki, 1983). For example, in a effort to gain peer acceptance, LD children are more apt to become involved in delinquent behavior than are their RE counterparts (Bryan, Pearl, & Fallon, 1989). Bryan: et al. (1989) asked junior high and high school students whether or not they would engage in a number of prosocial and antisocial activities when pressured by peers, despite the fact that they did not wish to participate at all. Results revealed that both RE and LD children indicated that they would be likely to participate in prosocial behaviors when pressured by peers. However, LD children were found to be more likely to engage in antisocial behavior at the insistence of peers than their RE counterparts.

In work that has specifically addressed the link between student status and alcohol/drug use, LD children were found to be more vulnerable to drug and alcohol use than were their RE peers. Karacostas and Fisher (1993) compared LD and RE adolescents using the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory and reported that a significantly higher proportion of LD adolescents were considered chemically dependent.

Given the fact that LD students seem to experience greater difficulty (e.g., academic failure and low self esteem) during adolescence, there is a growing body of literature that suggests that these children may be more likely to engage in criminal behavior and to use drugs and alcohol more frequently than their RE peers. The purpose of this project is to examine the relation between school status and the frequency of criminal activity and drug/alcohol use among three groups of high school students. The current project extends the literature in this area of research by considering not only the regular education and learning disabled students, but by also examining continuation high school students.

Method

Participants

251 junior and senior high school students (144 males and 107 females) from various high schools in a large southern California school district participated. …