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Social Maladjustment vs. Emotional Disturbance

The federal special education law IDEA (Public Law 94-142) excludes some children from being identified as Emotionally Disturbed (ED) due to the notion that they are actually socially maladjusted and therefore cannot be supported under this law. How then, do educators and psychologists decipher emotionally disturbed from socially maladjusted to serve the students?

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The federal definition for emotional disturbance has created ongoing debate since its origination. Primary reasons for its questionability stem from its lack of clarity as well as its inability to be comprehensive enough to unmistakably determine eligibility under IDEA properly. Specifically, the law states that professionals must not provide special education services to students who are merely "socially maladjusted", but to those who are emotionally disturbed. The original intent of this clause was to exclude "adjudicated delinquents" from the special education realm, however such conditions have been found to be comorbid (McConaughy & Ritter, 2002, p. 1315).

Students identified as socially maladjusted are thought to be psychologically normal students who intentionally choose to break rules of society. Reasons they engage in such acts are to intimidate others or gain attention, and the federal guidelines state that these students should not receive services under IDEA (Costenbader & Buntaine, 1999). Some professionals in the field go as far to say that it is a faulty ...

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Current educational law excludes some children from being classified as having Emotional Disturbance due to the notion they have social maladjustment. Educators, psychologists and administrators are left with the task of discriminating the two.