Recent studies report the cumulative prevalence of behavioral disorders among school-age children to be second only to anxiety disorders. Unfortunately, by the time behavior has been identified as needing special education services, patterns of disruptive and externalizing behavior have often become unremitting. If at-risk behavior can be reliably identified at school entry, there is potential to intervene early to reduce severity and chronicity of behavior. Thus, with the aid of a nationally representative sample (n = 17,490), this study aimed to ascertain if teacher-observed disruptive behavior in kindergarten predicted children’s categorical identification for special education and receipt of behavior goals in their individualized education plans in third grade. Results indicated externalizing behaviors and approaches to learning at school entry, predicted identification with emotional disturbance, and other health impairment due to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in third grade. In addition, externalizing behaviors at school entry increased the likelihood of a child receiving an individualized education plan with an appropriate behavior goal. Self-control was not a significant predictor of any outcome. Finally, the covariates of sex, reading achievement, and race at school entry were significantly associated with a child’s need for behavior-related services. Implications for early intervention are discussed.
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- disruptive behavior
- special education