In the special education realm, conditions which generate behavioral issues fall under the category emotional disturbance. Several disorders receive this classification, as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s (IDEA) definition suggests. This lengthy definition reads:
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:
(A) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
(B) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
(C) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
(D) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
(E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.
The term includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance.
Overwhelmed? A simpler way to understand emotional disturbances is to remember that, when it comes to special education, the term “emotional disturbance” is associated with mental health or severe behavior issues.
The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (often referred to as NICHCY) lists six types of emotional disturbances: anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, conduct disorders, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and psychotic disorders; however, they note that this list isn’t all-inclusive. To learn about the precise characteristics connected to a child’s emotional disturbance, look into the specific subcategory that affects that child.
Given the behavioral issues related to the disability category at hand, educating students diagnosed with emotional disturbances can prove challenging. The challenge often stems from potential classroom disruptions; for instance, imagine the trouble created when a student begins crying uncontrollably or starts throwing a wild temper tantrum.
Tips for Teachers and Parents
Preventive measures are often the best solution to disruptions linked to emotional disturbances. The Arizona Department of Education’s Parent Information Network mentions functional behavioral assessments (FBAs) as a preventative strategy. An FBA identifies what leads a student to act out so that an effective behavioral intervention plan (BIP) can be developed.
Avoiding disruptive behavior may entail behavior modification. Behavior modification can involve strategies such as positive reinforcement and incentives to help students learn behaviors that are less disruptive and more socially acceptable.
One final tip is likely to benefit both parents and teachers. Collaborate with other professionals who work with your child or student (psychotherapist, behavioral therapist, etc.) to determine specific ways to effectively educate the individual.
If you’re a teacher looking to advance your career with a special education degree, check out our comprehensive list of master’s degree programs by state focused on special education.