Behavioural difficulties, special education and student trajectories



Behavioural difficulties in students receiving special educational services from elementary school age are known to be highly persistent and to have negative consequences in the short and long term, including learning difficulties, low integration rates in regular classes, school dropout and difficulty integrating into the workforce.

While the stability of these problems reflects the mixed success of school-based interventions, it is also clear that some of these students do achieve school and socio-professional integration comparable to those of ordinary students despite having behavioural difficulties in elementary school.

The study aims to identify the factors associated with the variable adjustment of students with behavioural difficulties.

In order to identify the factors associated with the variable adjustment of students with behavioural difficulties and to develop differentiated interventions, this study examined the individual and interactive contributions of three significant factors for the persistence of these difficulties: their severity, comorbidity of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and comorbidity of antisocial traits.

The primary objective of the study was to determine the extent to which these factors contribute to the identification of distinct student sub-groups according to developmental trajectory, cognitive, social and family characteristics and school and socio-professional integration. In doing so, the study also aimed to describe the nature of the behavioural difficulties detected in elementary school girls and boys and to examine the school-based and social services they received in relation to the progression of their difficulties.

The study's main result was the division of students into three distinct groups according to the progression of their difficulties. The three groups were comparable in age and gender distribution. The intensity of services received was essentially the same across the groups, despite a wide difference in the level of difficulties. Furthermore, in all three groups, the proportion of students receiving services substantially decreased by the end of the study, while their behavioural difficulties tended to increase or stabilize. This result points to the importance of maintaining or enhancing services in secondary school.

Main researcher

Michèle Déry, Université de Sherbrooke

Research report

Call for proposals

Deposit of the research report: November 2007