DEFINING EMOTIONAL OR BEHAVIORAL DISORDERS IN SCHOOL AND RELATED SERVICES
Steven R. Forness UCLA Neuropsychiatric Hospital
Kenneth A. Kavale University of Iowa Division of Special Education
In special education, the field of emotional or behavioral disorders seems to have considerably more problems in definition than other major categories such as learning disabilities or mental retardation. Although some disagreement remains, both these latter disorders have a much greater consensus as to definitional and diagnostic criteria, not only within special education, but in other related professions such as psychology, pediatrics, or psychiatry. Emotional or behavioral disorders is a subspecialty that, like mental retardation and learning disabilities, has focused on developmental and academic issues yet, at the same time, must give a certain priority to social or emotional issues as well. These are less well understood and enjoy less agreement as to definition, cause, and treatment, both within special education and in its related professional fields. It is also a specialty whose treatments are increasingly seen as dependent on interdisciplinary or interagency services in which a wide variety of professionals must agree on need for service ( Koyanagi & Gaines, 1993; McLaughlin, Leone, Warren, & Schofield, 1994; Nelson & Pearson, 1991; Rivera & Kutash, 1994). There has thus been an understandable tendency to identify only the most obviously or seriously disturbed children in this category. The outcomes for children with emotional or behavioral disorders are therefore understandably less optimistic than for children in almost any other category of special education ( Knitzer, Steinberg, & Fleisch, 1990; U.S. Department of Education, 1994).
This chapter focuses on the current definition of serious emotional disturbance (SED) used to determine eligibility for special education and on a