Environmental Stressors and Emotional Status of Adolescents Who Have Been in Special Education Classes

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Abstract

Objective

To identify environmental and psychosocial factors associated with receiving special education services.

Design

The 1992 Minnesota Student Survey, an anonymous, self-report survey.

Setting

Minnesota public schools.

Participants

A total of 121 848 adolescents in the 6th, 9th, and 12th grades.

Main Outcome Measures

Emotional status and potential environmental risk factors including family structure, family substance use problems, family violence, and sexual abuse were compared between adolescents reporting a history of having been in classes for learning problems and a grade- and race-matched comparison group of adolescents who had never been in classes for learning problems. Comparisons were conducted separately for male and female respondents.

Results

Compared with adolescents who had never been in classes for learning problems, a significantly greater proportion of male and female students who had been in special education classes lived in single-parent and nontraditional households, indicated that a family member had an alcohol or other drug problem, had witnessed or experienced physical abuse, and reported a history of sexual abuse and poor emotional health. Most of these associations remained significant when simultaneously controlling for the other factors in logistic regression. Significant factors showed modest odds ratios in the multivariate analyses (<1.6), except for the emotional status variable. Students with a history of receiving special education services had from 6 to 14 times the odds of reporting poor emotional health. This association was strongest among the youngest adolescents.

Conclusion

Several environmental stressors and psychosocial factors, most notably poor emotional health, are associated with a history of special class placement for learning problems.

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