Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Perceptions of Mental Health Concerns for Secondary Students with Disabilities during Transition to Adulthood

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

Perceptions of Mental Health Concerns for Secondary Students with Disabilities during Transition to Adulthood

Article excerpt


This study reports results from a national survey of education and community professionals regarding secondary level students with disabilities who were experiencing mental health concerns. A total of 648 professionals from 49 states completed the on-line survey. Respondents reported that almost half (48%) of their students with disabilities were experiencing some mental health concerns and that these concerns were not always addressed through the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and transition planning process provided under federal law. Major barriers to providing effective services included: (a) limited availability of resources; (b) challenging student behaviors; (c) family characteristics and involvement; (d) lack of collaboration between stakeholders; and, (e) need for professional development. Key strategies to improve outcomes included: (a) increasing access to services; (b) developing student skills; (c) involving parents and families; (d) building positive student/teacher relationship; and (e) increasing training and professional development opportunities.

Keywords: mental health, disability, secondary special education, transition services


National attention towards understanding and addressing mental health concerns in the classroom has increased during recent years, and schools are struggling to identify interventions and resources that will support the growing needs of students who exhibit these concerns (Abrams, 2005; Davis, Jivanjee, & Koroloff, 2010; Jacobstein, Stark, & Laygo, 2007; Heflinger & Hoffman, 2008; Rowling, 2007; Teich, Robinson, & Weist, 2007). This focus on mental health in schools at the national level is especially important as schools have been recognized as a natural setting for providing mental health treatment and prevention services to youth who are experiencing mental health concerns (Anglin, 2003).

One particularly vulnerable group of students with mental health concerns includes those with disabilities who are beginning to transition from adolescence to adulthood (Clark, Koroloff, Geller & Sondheimer, 2008; Rosenberg, 2008). For our study, the definition of young adults with disabilities includes students across all disability types who are receiving special education or related services through an IEP or a 504 Plan. Adolescence is characterized by numerous biological, cognitive, psychological, and social changes as youth transition from childhood to young adulthood; and the risk for behavior, mood and substance use disorders increases sharply during adolescence (Center for Disease Control, 2011). Comparatively, prior research has suggested that students with disabilities are more likely to experience mental health concerns than those without disabilities (Taggart, Cousins & Milner, 2007; Emerson & Hatton, 2007). In one study comparing the emotional, behavioral and mental health status of young adults with and without learning disabilities (LD), it was reported that young adults with LD were more likely to demonstrate emotional and behavioral problems than those without LD (Taggart, et al., 2007). Similarly, Emerson & Hatton (2007) found that individuals with intellectual disabilities were over six times more likely to experience a psychiatric disorder than those without an intellectual disability. These findings support the growing need to better understand mental health concerns among young adults with disabilities.

In addition to an increased likelihood of individuals with disabilities experiencing mental health concerns, previous research has suggested that individuals with disabilities and mental health concerns are at a greater risk for experiencing negative in-school and post-school outcomes. Studies have shown that students with mental health concerns have faced a number of in-school barriers, including decreased academic performance, and poor social skills and peer relationships (Barrett & Heubeck, 2000; Langley, Bergman, McCracken & Piacentini, 2004; Ma, 1999). …

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