A qualitative inquiry of the lived experiences of high school students who qualify for special education under emotional disturbance

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Students who are qualified under the special education category of Emotional Disturbance (ED) have some of the highest academic deficits, behavioral problems, and negative life outcomes compared to other eligibility groups. The heterogeneous nature of students classified as ED makes it difficult for school personnel to understand their needs. Previous research with students in this category has been from other people’s perspectives. This study examined junior and senior high school students labeled ED and their perspectives about school, identity, being labeled ED, and future expectations. Four female students participated in a qualitative interview about their lives. A case-by-case and thematic analysis revealed nine themes. Three themes addressed school experiences. Two themes addressed students’ perceptions of themselves. Two themes inquired about students’ perceptions of the ED label. Two themes were related to students’ expectations of the future. The findings indicated that participants struggled throughout school with the exceptions the last two years. They expressed difficulties with executive functioning, peer relationships, and mental health. The participants reported feeling generally positive feelings towards their teachers and themselves. When it came to the future, the participants expressed excitement and uncertainty about life after high school.

Emotional disturbance, Special education, Qualitative study