Lehigh University
Lehigh University


Weak economy takes toll on some at-risk kids

Brenna Wood, assistant professor of special education, says that in economically difficult times, parents and teachers need to be “even stronger advocates for children with special needs.”

Several months ago, as America turned the corner on a turbulent 2010, economic forecasters were cautiously optimistic about the new year. The old year had seen 2.9 million home foreclosures, an unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, and a national economy that grew just 2.5 percent in the third quarter.

Concerns over the economy have found their way into the homes of many Americans. According to a recent benefits survey conducted by The Hartford, almost 25 percent of people have taken on additional work, while nearly 75 percent felt “moderately stressed” about their family’s predicament.

For families with children with behavioral and academic disabilities, the current economic environment can make home life exponentially more difficult, says Brenna Wood, an assistant professor of special education.

“Many families are having a hard time adjusting to the new economic reality,” says Wood. “Creating a home environment that becomes a place for social emotional growth is critical, but for many families, home has become a pressure-filled environment.”

Some children “grow out” of these problem behaviors, but studies confirm that many others continue to engage in severe aggression and disruption, putting them at greater risk for school failure, delinquency and substance abuse. Researchers have also found an increase in punitive teacher-child interactions.

“Increasing the number of positive interactions”

The trouble doesn’t end there. When parents turned to childcare providers for support and respite, researchers found these children were three times more likely to be expelled from their childcare program than K-12 students—further limiting their opportunities to learn appropriate social communication and emotional regulation skills. It is estimated almost half will be placed in special education programs by the time they reach the fourth grade.

Special education experts like Wood seek to help families readjust during difficult times, allowing for a stronger support relationship that can survive the tumultuous recession.

“At the heart of our research are behavior interventions, where parents are taught strategies to increase the number of positive interactions they have with their children,” says Wood.

“It’s about keeping things in perspective. With so many outside stressors impacting daily life, it’s important for parents and teachers to be even stronger advocates for children with special needs. It’s a difficult task, but the long-term rewards are even greater.”


Story by Tom Yencho

Posted on Wednesday, April 27, 2011

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