Disability: Emotional Disturbance
Over the next several weeks I’m going to discuss a number of disabilities. The first I want to discuss is emotional disturbance. Remember, any handicap must adversely affect a student’s educational performance before it is considered a disability under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Children could have a mild emotional disturbance but still function well in the standard classroom. Those children would not have a recognized disability.
Children who do have emotional disabilities that affect their educational performance fall into five categories. They have:
1) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.
2) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
3) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
4) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression
5) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.
This term includes schizophrenia, but does not include students who are simply socially maladjusted unless they have additional characteristics of emotional disturbance.
Many more male students are identified as having an emotional disturbance than girls. This is probably due to teachers making most of the referrals. Boys tend to exhibit outward, disruptive behavior when they have an emotional disturbance while girls tend to internalize and exhibit more anxiety and depression.
It is recommended that teachers and parents follow some guidelines when dealing with emotionally disturbed children.
1) Choose your battles. Ignore the small stuff that does not truly disrupt the environment.
2) You may think children are misbehaving deliberately when in reality the behavior is beyond their control. Try to figure out what triggers bad behavior and change the circumstances if possible.
3) Teachers and parents need behavior charts. This will help detect trends and triggers and can also help you positively reinforce proper behavior.
4) All students have some strengths. Use them to motivate students and to help them have experiences with success.
5) Keep lines of communication open between home and school. It is imperative that the two be consistent in dealing with an emotionally disturbed child.
While it is almost always difficult for teachers and parents to deal with students who are emotionally disturbed, can you imagine what it’s like for each of these children? What if people looked at you funny? What if you didn’t have friends? What if you said inappropriate things at inappropriate times? What if you were depressed and simply didn’t care what was going on around you or so anxious that you felt paralyzed much of the time?
Being emotionally disturbed is certainly no fun. Just remember that as hard as it may be, these children need the uncompromising love and support of their teachers and their families. Do your part.
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