One Step Forward, One Step Back for Emotionally Disturbed Youth

The National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS) was first conducted in the early 1990s as a method of assessing the needs of students with emotional problems. The goal was to identify areas in which these individuals needed the most help, including academic, employment, and behavioral domains, and use that information to make improvements that produce better life outcomes. The results of the first analysis were dismal, to say the least. But results of a recent review of the NLTS2 show that although some improvements have occurred, we’ve still got a long way to go.

Mary Wagner of the Center for Education and Human Services at Stanford Research Institute International reviewed data from 2005 and 2009 and looked at how youths fared during high school and in the eight years after. She found that more students with emotional disturbances had completed high school than in 1991, but a high percentage received nontraditional diplomas. Over half of those studied did go on to college, but not all graduated or received certifications. Wagner also discovered that even though the majority (91.2%) of individuals had worked at some point after graduating from high school, less than half were working when this review took place. This is problematic because most of these emotionally disturbed (ED) individuals reported living independently.

Other data that concerned Wagner were the arrest statistics. “The percentage of youth with ED out of high school up to four years in 1990 who had ever been arrested—36%—had jumped to 60.7% by 2005,” Wagner said. This is an alarming statistic, and one that Wagner believes could be avoided. In her research, she found that the majority of people with ED did not disclose their disability to college administrators or work colleagues and supervisors. Possessing self-awareness and understanding what one needs to function with a disability is essential to success. Many of the respondents may not have revealed their ED because they were concerned about how they would be treated. However, this disclosure can open many doors of opportunity in academic and professional worlds. Having accommodations that help people with ED adjust to life transitions such as college and work could dramatically decrease negative behavior and outcomes. Wagner hopes that these results lead to improvements in programs designed to help individuals with ED as they progress through school and beyond.

Wagner, Mary, and Lynn Newman. Longitudinal transition outcomes of youth with emotional disturbances. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal 35.3 (2012): 199-208. Print.

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  • Brook


    December 14th, 2012 at 4:07 AM

    Having these kinds of emotional problems can cause issues throughout life for not only the person who suffers but for the family who suffers along with them. These are the people who report looking normal on the outside but then are seething with damger on the inside, and then they could do something so horrrific before anyone even recognizes that there is a problem.

  • colleen


    December 14th, 2012 at 7:11 AM

    Oh boy this is not good news. I work with kids in a psychiatric residential facility at night. I help them with their homework, etc. The kids stay there for 9 months to a year. We always hope we are helping the kids and that there lives will be better when they leave. It’s discouraging to know these statistics.

  • Cindee G

    Cindee G

    December 14th, 2012 at 7:13 AM

    Why is everybody surprised by this? This label-ED-sounds like an excuse for poorly raised kids that teachers then have to deal with. Let me guess-kids with ED are from broken, poor homes with no parent support and no one making sure they do their homework and get to bed on time. And these kids have behavior problems? Wow. Shocker.

  • AJ


    December 14th, 2012 at 7:18 AM

    Yeah, Cindee G and then they end up in jail. For you and me to pay our hard earned money to support. Super!

  • J.T


    December 15th, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    Alarmed at the arrest statistics…ED requires help and not avoidance or hiding.With the shootings only rising and most of those responsible found to have some issues, this certainly needs more attention.

    Maybe employers should also check the mental health of their prospective employees before hiring along with competency.Failure to get help can lead to crimes and a further burden on our already over burdened justice system…something we just cannot afford to let continue.

  • ak


    May 16th, 2013 at 11:25 PM

    wow, some very judgmental people on here CINDEE. Some people are simply ED despite all the love, support, homework help, regular bed times and kisses on the head and even discipline they receive. Have you ever had to look at the child you gave birth to and not been able to see an ounce of your own ethics and concerns in their actions? Have you ever sought help and tried everything in your power including wrapping your entire life around that person and their behavioral problems in an effort to make a difference only to find that none of it works or matters?

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