Date of Award

Spring 4-16-2024

Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy


Counseling & Psychology

First Advisor

Joe Mageary

Second Advisor

Susan Gere

Third Advisor

Joan Arches


This dissertation addresses a significant gap in existing research by exploring lived experiences of cisgender female adolescents (Grades 7–12) diagnosed with emotional disturbance (ED) in the U.S. Current statistics indicate that 28% of students in special education with an ED diagnosis are girls; yet, their perspectives remain largely absent from scholarly discourse. Rooted in critical constructivism, critical feminist theory, and dis/ability studies and critical race theory (DisCrit), this qualitative study aims to elucidate insights that can enhance academic success and elevate high school graduation rates for this demographic. This research investigates the experiences of seven participants from New England, representing both self-contained and inclusion special education settings. Participants engaged in interviews and vision board exercises in order to examine the question, “How do cisgender female adolescents with ED experience either a self-contained classroom or an inclusion setting tailored to their disability?” The analysis reveals four key findings: negative school experiences; meaningful relationships and connection to nature and animals; school staff attunement to student mental health and trauma; and creative pursuits and the hope for the future. This research contributes to a deeper understanding of the experiences of adolescent girls in special education with ED and offers implications for interventions, teaching practices, policies, and future research endeavors. Findings underscore the necessity of incorporating student voices into development of educational practices, ultimately fostering a more inclusive and effective learning environment for this marginalized population.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.



Number of Pages