Juvenile Offenders with Behavioral Disorders, Learning Disabilities, and No Disabilities: Self-Reports of Personal, Family, and School Characteristics

By Zabel, Robert H.; Nigro, Frank A. | Behavioral Disorders, November 1999 | Go to article overview

Juvenile Offenders with Behavioral Disorders, Learning Disabilities, and No Disabilities: Self-Reports of Personal, Family, and School Characteristics


Zabel, Robert H., Nigro, Frank A., Behavioral Disorders


ABSTRACT Juvenile offenders (n= 266) confined to a juvenile detention facility were interviewed using a structured questionnaire about personal, home, and school characteristics and experiences that may have placed them at risk for delinquency. The sample was divided into two groups--those who had special education experience and those who had not. Characteristics and experiences of the entire sample as well as comparisons between the special education and non-special education groups are reported and discussed, Most of the participants experienced multiple risk factors that predispose them to delinquency. A high proportion (37.1%) had been in special education, with most classified as having behavioral disorders (BD), learning disabilities (LD), or both. Males were more likely than females to have special education experience and to be classified as having BD, and African Americans were more likely than other racial and ethnic groups to be so classified. Although the experiences of special education and non-special education groups were similar in most ways, where differences were apparent, the special education group appeared to be at higher risk. juvenile offenders with special education experience were more likely to need corrective lenses, to have been identified as having attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and to have taken medications for emotional problems. They had more foster placements, had attended more schools, and were more likely to have assaulted school officials. They got into trouble in school, were suspended, and made their first court appearances earlier than juvenile offenders without special education experience. Implications for prevention and intervention are suggested

Considerable research has examined factors that place youth at high risk for antisocial behavior and delinquency (e.g., Brier, 1995; Carran, Nemerofsky, Rock, & Kerins, 1996; Loeber, 1990; Pungello, Kupersmidt, Burchinal, & Patterson, 1996; Resnick et al., 1997). Individual, family, and school characteristics and experiences have been identified that place children at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders (E/BD) and learning disabilities (LD), social maladjustment, antisocial behavior, and juvenile delinquency (e.g., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1993; Kauffman, 1997). Adverse experiences in any single arena do not necessarily place a child at high risk for antisocial behavior, but when multiple factors exist, the effects multiply.

Individual characteristics include being male, African American, having a disability--especially attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-use of drugs and alcohol, and getting into trouble early. Researchers who have studied how some children overcome multiple risk factors, or are resilient (e.g., Garmezy, 1987; Rutter, 1990) have found that personal traits, including intelligence and the ability to find sources of adult involvement and support, reduce the effects of other risk factors.

Home and family characteristics that place children at risk include nonintact families, poverty, low levels of parent education, incarceration of close family members, parent drug use, and young age of mother at first childbirth. A review of 50 studies of relationships of juvenile crime and family structure indicates significant delinquency-promoting effects of parental divorce and separation (Wells & Rankin, 1991). Several researchers (e.g. Amato & Keith, 1991; Wallerstein, 1985) have provided evidence of adverse long-term effects of family conflict and divorce on children, while noting that it is not divorce alone, but associated financial, social, and emotional factors that have damaging effects.

Recognition that many juvenile offenders have disabilities has drawn the attention of special educators to examine their school experiences (e.g., Howell, 1995; Jarvelin, Laara, Rantakallio, Moilanan, & Isohanni, 1995; Leone, Rutherford, & Nelson, 1991; McIntyre, 1993; Nelson & Pearson, 1994). …

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