Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Intervention with Students with Learning, Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: Why Do We Take So Long to Do It?

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Intervention with Students with Learning, Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: Why Do We Take So Long to Do It?

Article excerpt

Abstract

Learning, emotional and behavior disorders of school-aged children and youth are major issues in school related research. In this paper we approach three specific topics that in our view are central for the understanding of the problem and the effectiveness of intervention in this area: (1) the issue of comorbidity of emotional, behavioral, and learning disorders, (2) the influence of academic underachievement in the development of EBD; and (3) the timing of interventions with emotional, behavior and learning disorders (EBLD). We discuss why in the context of the Portuguese educational system (a) there is little recognition of comorbidity (each disorder is usually treated independently of other associated disorders), (b) why the influence of learning failure in the development of EBD is rarely considered, and (c) why interventions with learning and / or behavior disorders are often timeless. Central to this paper is the idea that dealing effectively with learning failure is one of the best ways to deal effectively with EBD.

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The field of emotional and behavior disorders (EBD) has evolved rapidly where much is known about the characteristics, etiology, developmental course, and treatment of most categories of EBD. Nevertheless there are three important issues that in our view should be taken into account: (1) the issue of comorbidity of emotional, behavioral, and learning disorders, (2) the influence of academic underachievement on the development of EBD; (3) the timing of interventions with emotional, behavioral, and learning disorders (EBLD). We will consider these three issues in the context of the Portuguese educational system (regular education and special education).

Recognition of comorbidity of emotional, behavioral and learning disorders

Comorbidity of emotional, behavioral and learning disorders is a very complex issue in Portugal, as in the United States, because of the complexity of classification. The main problem is that "categories" of EBD, learning disorders, mental retardation, or other psychiatric categories are not used in educational settings (Kauffman, 2002; Lopes, Monteiro, Sil, Rutherford, & Quinn, 2004; Lopes, Velasquez, Fernandes, & Bartolo, 2004). Indeed there are strong claims against the need or usefulness of categorizing developmental problems. Official documents of central Portuguse government (e.g., Ministerio da Educacao, 1999) allow the use of categories only for "statistical purposes". Categorization for educational purposes is "dissuaded".

If categories themselves are rejected as inherently harmful, the study of comorbidity cannot logically receive much attention. We think this is unfortunate since not classifying a problem will not make it disappear and will likely worsen it.

For some (e.g., Correia, 2003), labels in special education are a way of segregating children since their peers and teachers may react more to those labels than to specific behaviors of the labeled child. However, scientific evidence shows that peers and teachers more often react negatively to real behaviors of children and youth with disabilities than to professional labels (Weiner, 1982).

Categories of disordered behaviors are seen by some as social constructions and not real problems. This is puzzling since despite the fact that these social constructions represent real problems for the students who exhibit them, for their peers and teachers, and for their parents. In a study of problem students in the classroom context, Lopes (2002) found that a significant number of special education teachers expressed the idea that if the cause of some kinds of disruptive behavior is psychosocial (e.g., poor parenting) then the student does not have the problem.

Our findings suggest that preconceptions against categories and labels strongly support some of this confusion. The fact that the Special Education Department of the Portuguese Ministry of Education advises that "categories should only be used for statistical purposes but not for educational planning" (Ministerio da Educacao, 1999) seems to have a considerable impact over special and general educators' conceptions of disability. …

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