The Preliminary Evaluation of a Program to Help Educators Address the Substance Use/prevention Needs of Special Students

Article excerpt


Although in-school substance abuse prevention efforts have improved over the past decade, youth with disabilities have frequently been neglected by those efforts, despite the fact that they use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATOD) as must as or more than their peers. In the current pilot study special education teachers were exposed to experiences designed to enhance their skills in adapting substance abuse prevention activities and materials, and presenting them to their students. Although pilot students noted an increase in their teachers' emphasis on substance abuse prevention in their classes and their criterion-related attitudes/behaviors were somewhat higher than those observed for a group of control students, the differences between that two groups' criterion scores did not differ significantly. Several operational weaknesses in the pilot study were raised as potential explanations for the reported


Recent research has demonstrated that youth as well as adults with disabilities often use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs at the same or higher rates as their non-disabled peers (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1998; Mogan, Genaux, & Likins, 1994). Compounding this problem are the (a) paucity of appropriate education interventions for youth with disabilities and (b) relative lack of specific skills required be teachers to address substance abuse prevention and treatment, coupled with disability issues, both of which make delivery of these services very difficult (Christian & Poling, 1997; Radnitz, Tirch, Vinciguerra, Moran, 1999).

Educators and researchers are becoming more aware that youth with disabilities are not immune to the adverse affects of alcohol and drug abuse. Most of these youth have the same access to alcohol or other drugs as their peers; therefore, they need equal access to prevention and treatment. When Morgan and colleagues (1994) asked special education teachers how often they conducted prevention activities in their classrooms over 50% said once per year or less. Only 15% reported that they conducted prevention activities once per week or more.

In addition to the general risk factors for substance abuse (e.g.,peer pressure, media enticements, stress), special education students also face many disability-specific risk factors that are largely unknown to school personnel. Whether youth with disabilities are in "self-contained" or inclusion setting ("main streamed"), they are at risk for substance abuse at least to the same extent as other children (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1998). Whereas educating youth with disabilities in inclusion setting exposes them to positive learning opportunities in the classroom, they also get more exposure to peer pressure for substance use and at earlier ages. On the other hand, children in contained special education classrooms often have less socialization practice or skills and may use substances in order to feel accepted by their peers.

Substance abuse prevention efforts have improved greatly during the past decade and schools are attempting more comprehensive research-based strategies. Unfortunately, youth with disabilities have been neglected in this process. Drug free school coordinators and substance abuse counselors rarely have the necessary training to adapt traditional prevention messages for special education students. At the same time, special education teachers rarely have the necessary training in substance abuse to conduct prevention activities or identify risk factors and signs of abuse by their students. Consequently, neither the substance abuse counselor nor the special education teacher engages in educating or intervening with these students relative to substance abuse. With the preceding in mind, the purpose of the reported study was to pilot test a substance abuse prevention education program targeted toward addressing the needs of students in special education and to assess the effects of the program on participating students' related attitudes, understanding, and behavior. …