By all accounts, meeting the needs of youth with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) as they transition into adulthood has proven to be a difficult task (Eber, Nelson, & Miles, 1997). Youth with EBD experience challenges unlike those faced by other students with disabilities (Fitzgibbon, Cook, & Falcon, 2000), with outcomes for these students impacted by poor social skills, social stigma, mental illness, and higher unemployment rates. Youth with EBD typically have higher rates of academic failure and grade retention, drop out of school at a higher rate than their peers, and are more likely to be educated in separate schools or residential placements (Cheney & Muscott, 1996; Hagner, Cheney, & Malloy, 1999; Maag & Katsiyannis, 1998; U.S. Department of Education, 1998). Further, these students experience high rates of social isolation, are more likely to interact with the juvenile justice system, and have higher rates of unemployment and under-employment, and job turn-over (Warner, Cheney, & Pienkowski, 1996). Issues of unemployment and underemployment are of particular concern, given the importance of employment on quality of life.
For many youth, acquiring and maintaining a job is a step to independence and gaining control over one's life that affords them a sense of self-worth and esteem. Frank, Sitlington, and Carson (1995) reported, however, that unemployment rates for youth with EBD ranged from 42% to 72% during the first 5 years after exiting high school. Equally disconcerting were findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS) that indicated that youth with EBD lag far behind their peers across many adult domains (Blackorby & Wagner, 1 996). These authors found that 41 % of youth with EBD were employed 2 years after high school as compared to 59% of youth without disabilities. Additionally, youth with EBD tend to secure lower-paying jobs as compared to students with other types of disabilities (Bullis etal., 1994; D'Amico, 1995).
Successful employment outcomes for this population are positively correlated with variables such as vocational education coursework (Aspel, Bettis, Test & Wood, 1998; Bullis et al, 1994; Wagner, 1995), paid work experience in high school (Benz, Lindstrom, & Yovanoff, 2000; Lueking & Fabian, 2000), or social skills training (Maag & Katsiyannis, 1998). One factor that has been identified as a critical variable leading to positive adult outcomes for youth with disabilities is self-determination (Agran, Blanchard, Wehmeyer, & Hughes, 2002; Thoma, Nathanson, Baker, & Tamura, 2002; Wehmeyer & Palmer, 2003; Wehmeyer & Schwartz, 1997).
There has been limited examination of the impact of self-determination on adult outcomes for youth with EBD. Wehmeyer (1996) defined self-determined behavior as "the attitudes and abilities necessary to act as the primary causal agent in one's life and to make choices and decisions regarding one's quality of life, free from undue external influences or interference" (p. 24). People who are self-determined implement a combination of skills and beliefs that enable them to set and achieve goals, self-regulate their behavior and actions, solve problems and make decisions, and, generally, become a causal agent in their lives.
Enhanced self-determination skills have been identified as contributing to more positive adult outcomes for students with disabilities. For example, Wehmeyer and Schwartz (1997) found that self-determined students with mental retardation and learning disabilities achieved more positive adult outcomes one year after exiting high school than their peers who were not self-determined. Of particular relevance was the finding that self-determined youth were more likely to have higher rates of employment and to earn, on average, higher wages when employed. A follow-up study conducted by Wehmeyer and Palmer (2003) explored the relationship between selfdetermination status and adult outcomes 1 and 3 years after high school. …