Academic journal article Behavioral Disorders

Choice or Chance: Career Development and Girls with Emotional or Behavior Disorders

Academic journal article Behavioral Disorders

Choice or Chance: Career Development and Girls with Emotional or Behavior Disorders

Article excerpt

I don't really plan for things, like me going to college. It might happen, but I'm not planning for it because you never know what's going to happen the next day. Tomorrow I could wake up dead. Tomorrow I could wake up a millionaire. You never know. Life is just chance. (Susan)

* Of all the things that form lifestyle, career may be most important. It provides economic support while affecting social status (Farmer, 1995; Lankard, 1994; Roe & Lunneborg, 1990), and self-concept (Super, 1994). Unfortunately, people with disabilities have dramatically high rates of unemployment and these rates are higher still for women with behavioral disorders (BD) (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996; Women and Disability Awareness Project, 1989). Furthermore, vocational education programs are often gender segregated and prepare young women to enter low-wage, traditionally female occupations (American Association of University Women, 1998).

Several studies provide a variety of research contributions about the educational needs and postschool outcomes for students with disabilities and for girls in general (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996; Lindstrom & Benz, 2002; Phelps & Hanley-Maxwell, 1997; Silverman & Pritchard, 1994). None, however, offer specific insight into the career development needs of girls with BD. This study investigated the career development process through methodology that allowed participants to have control and power in both the information they gave and the conclusions that were drawn from that information.


Qualitative research is a multimethod approach to studying phenomena in their natural settings. To do this, the qualitative researcher uses interpretive and naturalistic methods. The purpose of a qualitative study is to interpret the meaning individuals bring to the phenomenon under study (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994). According to Strauss and Corbin (1990), a researcher should use grounded theory when "you want to explain phenomena in light of a theoretical framework that evolves during the research itself land not a] previously developed theory that may or may not apply" (pp. 49-50). I chose a grounded theory framework because the research question "What are the factors that affect the career aspirations of female adolescents with behavioral disorders?" could not be answered sufficiently with response surveys. It was imperative to learn from participants themselves which areas of career development need further research in relation to their needs.


Fifteen female secondary education students identified with BD from an urban mid-western school district participated in this study (see Table 1). Their ages ranged from 14 to 19 years. Eight of the students identified themselves as White, five as African American, and two as Latina. The school district identified each participant as having a low socioeconomic background based on her qualification for the free or reduced-price lunch program. Three of the participants also were identified as having learning disabilities, and one participant was identified as having a speech and language impairment. The district serves 25,327 students. The student population is 68.9% White, 17.2% African American, and 4.2% Hispanic. A total of 8% qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Data Collection

Data were collected over a 12-month period, primarily through the use of in-depth, semistructured interviews (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992). Data collection began through focus group interviews conducted twice at each of the district's four high schools. These eight sessions not only helped to build rapport, but also established topics pertinent to participants regarding career development. Following the initial analysis of focus group data, a follow-up protocol was developed. Focus groups were audiotaped, transcribed, and followed up on during in-depth individual interviews.

As in the focus group sessions, the format of the individual interviews was determined by the girls' responses to initial questions. …

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