Differentiation of emotional disturbance and social maladjustment: Introduction to the special issue



We provide an overview of this special issue of Psychology in the Schools, which focuses on the current status of the debate about the definition of emotional disturbance (ED) provided in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1997) and the exclusionary clause regarding social maladjustment (SM). The debate centers on three areas: special education classification, which is ultimately a fiscal matter for law makers; differential diagnosis of clinical or educational disorders, which is ultimately a question about the worth of diagnostic taxonomies; and use of the terms emotional disturbance and social maladjustment, which have not been scientifically established. In this introduction we argue that Congress has already decided the issue of special education eligibility for those with social maladjustment. Rather, the core issue is the evaluation of the scientific merit of ED and SM differentiation as it relates to treatment planning. This is addressed in this special issue by a number of authors outlining the steps necessary for schools to move forward from this debate toward a focus on empirically-based treatment for children whose emotions and/or behaviors interfere with their learning or the learning of others. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Psychol Schs 41: 819–821, 2004.