Differential perceptions of multidisciplinary team members: Seriously emotionally disturbed vs. socially maladjusted

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Department or Administrative Unit


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The difficult task of distinguishing between students with serious emotional disturbance (SED) and those with social maladjustment (SM) continues to present a problem for educators. Although many researchers in the field of special education and school psychology have strong opinions about the feasibility of differentially identifying these groups of students, very little information is available about how this distinction is actually made by educators in the field. The purpose of this study was to investigate the factors that multidisciplinary team (MDT) members, specifically school psychologists, special educators, and school principals, consider in making the distinction between SED and SM students and the degree of confidence they have in their ability to make this distinction. Although no significant difference in reported confidence was found between the three groups of professionals, there was a moderate degree of disagreement between the groups on the behavioral or background descriptors that differentially characterize SED and SM students, especially in regard to the diagnosis of conduct disorder. Overall, school psychologists tended to differ from special educators and principals in the number of descriptors identified as important and the relative number of respondents that endorsed each descriptor. Implications for special education decision making and recommendations for future research are discussed.


This article was originally published in Psychology in the Schools. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Psychology in the Schools


Copyright © 1992 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., A Wiley Company