Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Response to Intervention: An Alternative Means of Identifying Students as Emotionally Disturbed

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Response to Intervention: An Alternative Means of Identifying Students as Emotionally Disturbed

Article excerpt

Abstract

Children and youth exhibiting serious emotional, behavioral, and interpersonal problems create substantial challenges for schools, teachers, their parents, and other students. Students having these characteristics are often underserved or unserved by educational and mental health systems in the United States. Recent prevalence rates for children served as emotionally disturbed (ED) under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act is less than 1 percent although over 20 percent of the school population could qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis. A major reason for the underservice of children as ED lies in the federal definition of emotional disturbance which is nebulous, often illogical, and self-contradictory. An alternative approach to ED identification based on a student's response to an evidence-based intervention is proposed in this article. Response to intervention is defined and described along with methods and procedures for quantifying whether or not a student shows an adequate or inadequate response to an evidence-based intervention implemented with integrity.

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Serious emotional, behavioral, and social difficulties exhibited by children and youth result in substantial challenges to schools, teachers, parents, and their peers. These challenges cut across disciplinary, instructional, and interpersonal domains and often can create chaotic school and classroom environments. A particularly disturbing finding is that students exhibiting severe emotional and behavioral challenges are either underserved or unserved by educational and mental health systems in the United States (National Association of School Psychologists, 2000). Historically, the U.S. Department of Education estimated the prevalence rate for children and youth served as (ED) at 2 percent (Kauffman, 2001). However, recent prevalence estimates of children served as ED continues to be less than 1 percent nationwide (U.S. Department of Education, 2003). Among the states, the category of ED shows the greatest variability in prevalence of any disability category (Hallahan, Keller, & Ball, 1986). This large degree of variability among states is most likely due to confusion, ambiguities, and differences in the definition and interpretation of ED.

Underservice of Students with ED

The behavioral characteristics and needs of children at-risk for ED has overwhelmed the capacity of schools to effectively accommodate these students. Walker and Gresham (2003) suggested that it is ironic that schools have been slow to recognize the educational needs and demands that these students pose to themselves, to the major social agents in their lives (e.g., parents and teachers), and society at large. Estimates indicate that almost 20 percent of the school-age population could qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis using criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-4th Edition (American Psychiatric Association, 1994; Angold, 2000). Hoagwood and Erwin (1997) suggested that 22 percent of school-age children have mental health problems so severe as to require attention, treatment, and supports. There is a huge disparity between the percentage of children and youth needing mental health services (20+ percent) and those actually served in special education under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Reasons for this underservice appear to be primarily philosophical and fiscal in nature (Walker, Ramsay, & Gresham, 2004). Philosophically, schools have a long history of believing that they are not responsible or accountable for the mental health needs of students. Additionally, the definition of ED in federal legislation (IDEA) has specifically excluded students who are characterized as "socially maladjusted." This philosophy is based on the premise that students who have problems in conduct (i.e., social maladjustment) are responsible for their behavior and thus do not have a legitimate disability. …

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