***Post written by Eldon Clifford, President Elect, Elections Chair and SPAN for WSPA***
*For the purpose of this blog Emotional Disability and Emotional Disturbance will be treated as identical terms
The Wyoming Chapter 7 statute identifies a student with an Emotional Disability as:
“Emotional Disability. Emotional Disability means a condition exhibiting one (1) or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance: an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors; an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers or teachers; inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances; a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems. The term includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless they have an Emotional Disability as defined in these rules.” (Wyoming Department of Education, 2010)
Since the inclusion of the category of Emotional Disturbance in the 1975 P.L. 94-142, there has been ambiguity in regards to whether or not a student with Conduct Disorder, or as identified/operationalized in the statute as “socially maladjusted”, can be considered a student with an Emotional Disability (ED) (Olympia, et al, 2004; Sullivan & Sadeh, 2014). The original term ED was based on the work of Eli Bower, who reported the inclusion of the term “socially maladjusted” in P.L. 94-142 was inconsistent with his conceptualization of ED (Olympia, et al., 2004). History suggests, the term was included as to “not open the flood gates” to students with significant behavioral problems or as identified at the time as “delinquents”. (Olympia et al. 2004).
Regardless of how it got there, differentiation between what is a child with an ED and what excludes a child who is exhibiting conduct disorder/socially maladjusted behaviors from eligibility has fluxed many a special education eligibility team. Most interpretations of the law suggest, a student cannot be considered an eligible student under the category of ED if the sole reason for their behavior is social maladjustment/conduct disorder symptoms (Sullivan & Sadeh, 2014; Colorado Department of Education, 2015). However, a student exhibiting conduct disorder/socially maladjusted behaviors is considered eligible under the category of ED if they meet the afore mentioned criteria for ED (Olympia, et al, 2004). Simple right? Perhaps this diagram will help.
|Is the student socially maladjusted (SM)|
Does the student have an
Emotional Disability (ED)
| Both ED and SM
| ED but not SM
|No|| SM but no ED
(Does Not Qualify)
| No ED and No SM
(Does Not Qualify)
*Modified from CDE, 2015)
In summary, the best course of action when making a decision regarding a student’s eligibility under the category of ED is to try and avoid using a decision model based on ED vs. Social Maladjustment/Conduct Disorder (CDE, 2015; Sullivan & Sadeh, 2014). Rather, the team should seek to identify if the student meets the criteria for ED centered on the five areas noted in the WDE statute: an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors; an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers or teachers; inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances; a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems (WDE, 2010). *Note I had a professor in my doc program teach me an interesting (somewhat inappropriate) way to remember the 5 areas in the ED definition. If you make it to the upcoming WSPA Spring Conference on April 19th and 20th in Casper, I would be happy to share.
Eldon Clifford, PhD
Colorado Department of Education, Exceptional Students Service Unit (2015). Social Maladjustment Topic Brief: Determining the presences of social maladjusted when considering eligibility for serious emotional disability and intervention strategies. Retrieved from Https://www.cde.state.co.us/cdesped/topicbrief_sed_socialmaladjustment
Olympia, D., Farley, M., Christensen, E., Pettersson, H., Jenson, W. & Clark, E. (2004). Social maladjustment and students with behavioral and emotional disorder: revisiting basic assumptions and assessment issues, Psychology in the Schools, 4,1 835-847.
Sullivan, A.L. & Sadeh, S.S. (2014), Differentiating social maladjustment from emotional disturbance: An analysis of case law. School Psychology Review, 43, 450-471.
Wyoming Department of Education (2010) Chapter 7: Services for Children with Disabilities. Cheyenne, WY. 2010, https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/idea35/history/index_pg10.html