Finding What Works for Children with Special Needs

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by the What Works ClearinghouseWhat Works Clearinghouse logo

Educators working with children who exhibit emotional and behavioral concerns are interested in new techniques that will help them meet the needs of their students. But we shouldn’t expect teachers to have the time to examine the voluminous number of articles on this topic.

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) takes on this task by providing an independent examination of education research in order to provide central, trusted, and scientific evidence of what works in education. We summarize our review in a comprehensive report designed to help educators make sense of product claims and study results.

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Responding to Educators’ Needs

We’re continuing to expand and enhance our topics to meet the needs of educators looking for what works in the classroom. We’ve recently added a new focus to our special needs area, Children Classified as Having an Emotional Disturbance. This effort reviews research on programs designed to meet the academic, behavioral, social, and emotional needs of K–12 students who are classified as having an emotional disturbance, as well as those at risk for classification. This new area aims to help educators make important decisions about curricula, products, and classroom methods for students with these special needs.

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Compiling Research on Effectiveness

To date the WWC has released three reports focusing on the effectiveness of:

  • Coping Power,
  • The Incredible Years, and
  • Check & Connect.

Before preparing these reports, we screened hundreds of published and unpublished articles to determine whether they included a sample of K–12 students in the United States who were classified as having, or being at risk for, emotional disturbance. We also verified that each study tested the effect of a school-based intervention using a rigorous design.

After screening, we carefully examined 23 studies of Coping Power, 77 studies of The Incredible Years, and 24 Check & Connect studies. Results?

Coping Power was found to have positive effects on external behavior and potentially positive effects on social outcomes of children who were at risk for delinquent and/or aggressive behavior.

The Incredible Years was found to have potentially positive effects on the external behavior and social outcomes of children with oppositional defiant disorder.

None of the Check & Connect studies focusing on children with emotional and behavioral concerns met WWC evidence standards (for an explanation please see a description of the WWC review process: Additional research is needed to determine the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of this intervention for youth with or at risk of emotional disturbance.

The details for these reports are available at

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Get Connected with the WWC

We hope you’ll take the time to review the evidence reports described above–and check back with us often for new report releases expected in the coming months. You can also keep up with us on Facebook to see our latest updates and share WWC reviews with your colleagues.

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NOTICE: NICHCY is going away, but its resources are not. Find hundreds of legacy NICHCY publications, as well as our training curriculum on IDEA 2004, in the Center for Parent Information and Resources' Library at This website will remain available until September 30, 2014. After that date, web visitors will be automatically redirected to