Continuing Education Glossary - Glossary of terms, acronyms and
laws for educators of students with emotional or behavioral disorders.
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Brian Carroll for the P. Buckley Moss Foundation for Children's
Education Disability Forum
Defining the disability of emotional disturbance to certain
standards is difficult because of the changing and revised criteria
for determining eligibility. The current definition under the
Individuals with Disabilities Act, Public Law 101-476 , lists several
characteristics to consider for eligibility for special services:
". . . a condition exhibiting one or more of the following
characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that
adversely affects educational performance --
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
A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or
A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with
personal or school problems."
The causes of emotional disturbance have not been adequately
determined. Although various factors such as heredity, brain disorder,
diet, stress, and family functioning have been suggested as possible
causes, research has not shown any of these factors to be the direct
cause of behavior problems. Some of the characteristics and behaviors
seen in children who have emotional disturbances include:
Hyperactivity (short attention span, impulsiveness);
Aggression/self-injurious behavior (acting out, fighting);
Withdrawal (failure to initiate interaction with others);
retreat from exchanges of social interaction (excessive fear or
Immaturity (inappropriate crying, temper tantrums, poor coping
Learning difficulties (academically performing below grade level).
One of the more public issues associated with the condition of
emotional disturbance involves safety and discipline in the school
setting. Occasionally, students with emotional disturbance exhibit
provocative and disruptive behaviors in school. These behaviors raise
issues of discipline and safety in schools. The most recent revisions
of PL 101-476 provide more leverage for teachers to suspend and, in
some cases, expel students with emotional disturbance who exhibit
disruptive behavior. It should be noted that a student assessed as
having emotional disturbance does not necessarily exhibit disruptive
behaviors and may show more withdrawn symptoms.
Many children who do not have emotional disturbances may display some
of these same behaviors at various times during their development.
However, when children have serious emotional disturbances, these
behaviors continue over long periods of time. Their behavior thus
signals that they are not coping with their environment or peers.
The educational programs for students with a serious emotional
disturbance need to include attention to mastering academics;
developing social skills; and, increasing self-awareness, self-esteem,
and self-control. Career education (both academic and vocational
programs) is also a major part of secondary education and should be a
part of every adolescent's transition plan in his or her
Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Behavior modification is one of the most widely used approaches to
helping children with a serious emotional disturbance. However, there
are many other techniques that are also successful -- such as
counseling, anger management, and learning contracts that may be used
in combination with behavior modification.
Students eligible for special education services under the category of
serious emotional disturbance may have IEPs that include psychological
or counseling services as a related service. This feature is an
important related service which is available under the law and is to
be provided by a qualified social worker, psychologist, guidance
counselor, or other qualified personnel.
Families of children with emotional disturbances may need help in
understanding their children's condition and in learning how to work
effectively with them. Help is available from psychiatrists,
psychologists, or other mental health professionals in public or
private mental health settings. Children should be provided with
services based on their individual needs, and all persons who are
involved with these children should be aware of the care they are
receiving. It is important to coordinate all services between home,
school, and the therapeutic community with open communication.
Adamec, C. (1996). How to live with a mentally ill person: A
handbook of day-to-day strategies. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
(Telephone: 1-800-323-9872; extension 2497)
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. (1994). A parent's guide to
childhood and adolescent depression. New York: Dell. (Telephone:
Hatfield, A.B. (1991). Coping with mental illness in the family: A
family guide. Arlington, VA: National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
(Product #082. See telephone number below.)
Hatfield, A.B., and Lefley, H.P. (1993). Surviving mental illness:
Stress, copying, and adaptation. New York: Guilford Press. (Telephone:
Jordan, D. (1991). A guidebook for parents of children with emotional
or behavior disorders. Minneapolis, MN: PACER Center. (Telephone:
Jordan, D. (1995). Honorable intentions: A parent's guide to
educational planning for children with emotional or behavioral
disorders. Minneapolis, MN: PACER Center. (Telephone: 1-612-827-2966)
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. (1996). Resource catalog: A
listing of resources from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
(Rev. ed.). Arlington, VA: Author. (Telephone: 1-703-524-7600;
National Clearinghouse on Family Support and Children's Mental Health.
(1993, April). National directory of organizations serving parents of
children and youth with emotional and behavioral disorders (3rd ed.).
Portland, OR: Author. (Telephone: 1-503-725-4040)
Wood, M.M., and Long, N.J. (1991). Life space interventions: Talking
with children and youth in crisis. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed. (Telephone:
Michigan Special Education Label: Emotional Impairment Defined
R 340.1706 Emotional
impairment; determination; evaluation report.
impairment shall be determined through manifestation of
primarily in the affective domain, over an extended
period of time, which adversely affect
the student's education to the extent
that the student cannot profit from learning
experiences without special education
support. The problems result in behaviors manifested by
1 or more of the following characteristics:
(a) Inability to build or maintain satisfactory
interpersonal relationships within the school
(b) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings
under normal circumstances.
(c) General pervasive mood of unhappiness or
(d) Tendency to develop physical symptoms or
fears associated with personal or school
(2) Emotional impairment also includes students
who, in addition to the characteristics
specified in subrule (1) of
this rule, exhibit maladaptive behaviors related to
schizophrenia or similar disorders.
The term "emotional impairment" does
not include persons who are socially
maladjusted, unless it is determined that
the persons have an emotional impairment.
(3) Emotional impairment does not include
students whose behaviors are primarily the
result of intellectual,
sensory, or health factors.
(4) When evaluating a student suspected of having
an emotional impairment, the
multidisciplinary evaluation team
report shall include documentation of all of the following:
(a) The student's performance in the educational
setting and in other settings, such as
adaptive behavior within the broader
(b) The systematic observation of the behaviors
of primary concern which interfere with
educational and social needs.
(c) The intervention strategies used to improve
the behaviors and the length of time the
strategies were utilized.
(d) Relevant medical information, if any.
(5) A determination of impairment shall be based
on data provided by a multidisciplinary
evaluation team, which shall
include a comprehensive evaluation by both of the following:
(a) A psychologist or psychiatrist.
(b) A school social worker.
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