Operational differences and early indicators of emotional and behavioral impairment and social maladjustment



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Emotional disturbance is a qualifying area under special education for students experiencing emotional or behavioral difficulties in school. To qualify with an emotional disturbance, a student must meet at least one of the five criteria and demonstrate an educational need in order to qualify for special education services. There is an additional piece of the federal eligibility guidelines, known as the social maladjustment exclusionary clause. The term social maladjustment is not defined, leaving the state and local education agencies to operationally define the term, which has led to challenging debates over the last several decades.
The Fragile Families Child and Wellbeing Study (FFCWS, 2001) and Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten (ECLS-K, 2009) each present a unique opportunity to construct and examine operational differences between characteristics of social maladjustment and behaviors related to emotional disturbance. Using structural equation modeling and latent class analyses, behavioral subgroups within the datasets were identified. The results of the current study indicate there are developmental behavior changes between kindergarten and third grade and students have varying degrees of internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors. In addition, the results from the Fragile Families Child and Wellbeing dataset suggest the social maladjustment population may be relatively small or inappropriate to define at the age of nine. Future research should examine characteristics using data with more variables related to conduct problems beyond the age of nine as well as with other datasets related to juvenile justice.



Emotional disturbance, Social maladjustment, Behavior