Study shows aggressive students often lack psychological evaluations and effective treatment

As the disturbing trend of school violence continues to plague our education system, it is important for caregivers, educators, and doctors to join forces to be proactive in its prevention. A study in the August issue of The Journal of Pediatrics shows that students displaying violent behaviors often have untreated learning disorders and psychiatric illnesses.

Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a child psychiatrist at Cambridge Health Alliance, and colleagues from Harvard University evaluated 33 students in an urban public school district who were referred by school staff due to their aggressive behavior. The participants' ages ranged from 5 to 18 years old. The authors identified substance abuse in 11 students and at least one medical problem in 13 students. 28 of the 33 students (85%) evaluated had experienced a significant family crisis (such as sickness or death of a parent). 23 had participated in brief or intermittent psychosocial interventions, 5 of which included hospitalizations. 6 of the 18 students (33%) with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder had never received any kind of treatment for it.

These findings reflect the need for health care professionals, caregivers, and teachers to be able to identify potentially dangerous behavior patterns in aggressive students so that proper evaluations and diagnoses can be provided and subsequent treatments be made accessible.

"Often educators look at Columbine as the 'twin towers' experience where schools are understandably more vigilant about aggressive students and their potential for violence," says Dr. Rappaport. "The challenge to create and maintain safe schools is to mobilize proactive strategies and create a balanced and informed approach."

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The study is reported in "Beyond Psychopathology: Assessing Seriously Disruptive Students in School Settings" by Nancy Rappaport, MD, Lois T. Flaherty, MD, Stuart T. Hauser, MD, PhD. The article appears in The Journal of Pediatrics, Volume 149, Number 2 (August 2006), published by Elsevier.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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