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NASP Home NASP Publications School Psychology Review (SPR) Volume 21 Issue 1 (1992) A New Proposed Definition and Termino...
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Volume 21, Issue 1 (1992)

A New Proposed Definition and Terminology to Replace "Serious Emotional Disturbance in Individual With Disabilities Education Act

pp. 12—20

Moreso than any other category of special education, children with serious emotional disturbance remain very much under identified in our nation’s schools (Smith, Wood, & Grimes, 1988). Even the most conservative prevalence estimates from current epidemiologic research suggests that at least 7% of all children and adolescents may have emotional disorders severe enough to warrant treatment (Brandenburg, Friedman, & Silver, 1990). Likewise conservative estimates suggest that between one third and one half of these would have academic or related problems in the classroom that require special education (Forness, Bennett, & Tose, 1983). Thus at least 2 to 3% of school-age children and adolescents should be served in this category. The public schools, however, currently identify fewer than 1% of all children enrolled in school as receiving special education under the category of Serious Emotional Disturbance (U.S. Department of Education, 1991). Fewer than half these pupils are reported as being mainstreamed, which would indeed seem testimony to the severity of their disorders. There seems to be consensus that both the terminology and the definition of serious emotional disturbance (SED) under current provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, formerly known as Education of the Handicapped Act) are at least partly responsible for this under identification (Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders, 1984, 1987, 1990; Knitzer, 1982, 1990).

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