Emotional Disturbance

Emotional Disturbance

IDEA defines emotional disturbance as follows:
A condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:

behavioral emotional disabilities
An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors. An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers. Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances. A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression. A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

What are some Characteristics of a child with an Emotional Disturbance?

Some of the characteristics and behaviors seen in children who have an emotional disturbance

intellectual disability adults symptoms

Hyperactivity (short attention span, impulsiveness)

causes of emotional and behavioral disorders

Aggression or self-injurious behavior (acting out, fighting)

emotional disturbance disorder

Withdrawal (not interacting socially with others, excessive fear or anxiety)

intellectual disability and schizophrenia

Immaturity (inappropriate crying, temper tantrums, poor coping skills)

intellectual disability and mental health

Learning difficulties (academically performing below grade level)

Children with the most serious emotional disturbances may exhibit distorted thinking, excessive anxiety, bizarre motor acts, and abnormal mood swings. Many children who do not have emotional disturbance may display some of these same behaviors at various times during their development. However, when children have an emotional disturbance, these behaviors continue over long periods of time. Their behavior signals that they are not coping with their environment or peers.
A child with an emotional disturbance is usually eligible for special education and related services in public school. These services can be of tremendous help to students who have an emotional disturbance. The staff, on campus, that work with an emotionally disturbed child should:
  • Learn more about the student’s specific mental health disturbance. A mood disorder such as depression will affect a student’s demeanor, thinking, learning, and behavior differently than an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. Knowing how the particular emotional disturbance manifests itself and is managed can help you support the student’s education in individualized, informed, and effective ways.
  • Learn more about the student’s strengths, too. The student brings much more than an emotional disturbance to class. What about his or her strengths, skills, talents, and personal interests? All of these are tools in your hands as you adapt instruction, give out assignments, ask the student to demonstrate learning, and create opportunities for success.
  • Remember, they’re kids first. By and large, students with emotional disturbances aren’t scary, dangerous, or time bombs waiting to go off . They are themselves, in need of your skill and support, and quite capable of learning. Do not permit bullying, teasing, demeaning, or exclusion of the student by other students—or by the system.
  • Support the student’s inclusion. Emotional disturbances, by their very nature, can make it difficult for people to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships. You can support the student with an emotional disturbance in subtle but meaningful ways, especially during group work, cooperative learning activities, peer interactions, and team projects. There may also be times to let the student work alone, take a break, or have a hall pass for some quiet time apart.
  • Set clear behavioral rules and expectations for the entire class. Students with emotional disturbances are frequently the targets (rather than the initiators) of other students’ misbehaviors. Having a stated, explicit classroom management plan provides a solid structure by which both teacher and students can address inappropriate behavior, understand consequences, and develop a shared approach to behavior in class and toward one another.
  • Provide accommodations listed in his/her IEP with fidelity. The student’s individualized education program (IEP) will spell out what accommodations the student is to receive in class and during testing. If you’re not part of the team that develops the student’s IEP, ask for a copy of this important document. Also check with your school district for guidance on local policy and appropriate classroom accommodations for students with emotional disorders.
  • As an ARD team member, you can make sure the IEP includes accommodations and classroom adaptations appropriate to the student’s needs and success in your class. You can also advocate for program modifications and supports for yourself, to help you support this student in class.
  • Communicate with the student’s parents. Parents are a great source of information about their own children. As members of the IEP team they are likely to have a multitude of suggestions for what would benefit their child with an emotional disturbance in school. They can also keep you informed as to events and developments in the child’s life, new medications or treatments, and how these might affect the student in school.