Social Skills of Adolescents in Special Education Who Display Symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

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Twenty-seven special education students in self-contained classes whose behavior met DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) diagnosti1c criteria for an ODD diagnosis were matched according to age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, math and reading scores, and IQ with 27 special education students in self-contained classes who did not meet ODD diagnostic criteria. Teachers rated students who met DSM-IV criteria for ODD as having fewer social skills, lower academic competence, and more problem behaviors than special education students whose behavior did not meet criteria for an ODD diagnosis. Results suggest that students with ODD symptoms would benefit from social skills instruction.


Education of students with disabilities has progressed from exclusion of some children with handicaps to instruction in special education classes to legislation stipulating the placement of these children in classes with regular education students without handicapping conditions (Jacob & Hartshorne, 2003). The movement toward increased mainstreaming of special education students has elicited some cautionary reaction. Gresham (1984) protested the arbitrary placement of special education students with their non-disabled peers. He argued that the concept of mainstreaming was based in part upon three assumptions. The first assumption was that physical placement of children needing special education in general education classrooms would result in increased social interaction between general and special education children. The second assumption was that mainstream placement would result in social acceptance of children with disabilities by their non-disabled peers. The third assumption was that mainstreamed children with disabilities would model or imitate the behavior of their non-disabled peers. Gresham (1984) presented evidence from several studies that these assumptions were faulty, and he recommended social skills training prior to mainstreaming special education students because they were found to have social skills deficits compared to general education students.

Meadows, Neel, Scott, and Parker, (1994) concluded that including disabled students with their non-disabled peers poses problems particularly for students whose disabling condition is classified as an emotional disturbance. Research by Gable, Hendrickson, and Rutherford (1991) found that social skills among students with emotional disturbances are not as well developed as those of students with other handicapping conditions such as learning disabilities. These social skills deficiencies may present problems in mainstreaming emotionally disturbed students (Gresham, 1984). Social skill deficits for emotionally disturbed students may be the most critical deterrent to social acceptance (Schloss, Schloss, Wood, & Kiehl, 1986). Studies indicate that many students with behavioral disorders lack appropriate social skills (Gresham, 1984, 1986) and are poorly accepted by their peers (Sabornie, 1985). Others (Gersten, Walker, & Darch, 1988; Treder, Morse, & Perron, 2000) have found reluctance by teachers to include these students in their classrooms.

Based on such findings, Meadows, Neel, Parker, andTimo (1991) recommended that, prior to placing behaviorally-disordered students in regular education classes, educators need to look closely at students' specific social skills deficits and levels of social competence. If students who have particular types of emotional disorders demonstrate social skills deficits, these deficits should be addressed with social skills training before including these students in classes with non-disabled students. Otherwise, mainstreaming efforts with these students may not succeed.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition (DICA-R) is a widely used categorization system of emotional disturbances that may be used to distinguish various groups of students with disabilities (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). …


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