Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Special Education

Major Professor

James L. Paul, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Ann Cranston-Gingras, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Albert Duchnowski, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Harold Keller, Ph.D.


postsecondary outcomes, mental health services, emotional and behavioral disorders, special education, college student development


Transitioning into adulthood is an exciting and challenging time for emerging adults, and is even more difficult for young adults with emotional and behavioral difficulties (EBD). Even though the number of transition-aged individuals with EBD is significant, few studies have explored the experiences of this population engaged in educational activities, and there is limited information regarding the personal experiences of emerging adults with EBD. The purpose of the study is to acquire a better understanding of the experiences of young adults diagnosed with an EBD who are working toward their academic goals. Further, this study may give voice to individuals who have not had the opportunity to share their experiences and beliefs.

The researcher employed phenomenological research methods for this study. The purpose of phenomenology is to describe, rather than explain phenomena (Ehrich, 2003). Five participants, aged 18 to 25, and diagnosed with an Axis I disorder in the DSM-IV-TR, were selected using purposeful sampling. The researcher conducted one in-depth interview with the participants, and a brief follow up interview. Data were analyzed using the following seven steps: preliminary grouping, reduction and elimination, clustering the invariant constituents, identification and validation of the invariant constituents and themes by application, construction of an analysis and development of impressions of each participant, and construction of a composite description of the meanings and essences of the experience, representing the group as a whole.

Although living with an EBD is a "continuous struggle," it also provides opportunities for feelings of success and empowerment. Salient aspects of living with an EBD include its effect on the self, impact on relationships, and managing treatment, such as medication and therapy. Participants also discussed how EBD impacts their transition experiences and their ability to achieve their goals; relevant themes included academic challenges, issues regarding seeking assistance, and their selection of career choices. The participants are able to manage these challenges because of the supports they have received and coping strategies they have developed. Furthermore, their own personality traits, such as determination, belief in themselves, and goal orientation have been integral in their journey towards achieving their academic and career goals.