Emotional Behavioral Disturbance

Teacher Resource: working with a unique population of kids

Demographic Information

IDEA Definition:

Emotional disturbance refers to 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:


  • 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; and/or
  • A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.


Nearly 464,000 students aged 6-21 years old in the US received services for emotional or behavioral disabilities in the 2006-2007 school year


Boys outnumber girls in the Emotional Disturbance classification about 4:1 or 5:1 (depending on research studies)


Students with Emotional Disturbance fail more courses, earn lower GPA's, miss more days of school, are retained at grade level more than students with other disabilities


55% of this population leave school before graduating


You Think You Know, But You Have No Idea: Misconceptions

Intelligence and achievement- Contrary to popular belief, most children with emotional and behavioral disorders are not bright, intellectually above-average children who are just bored with their surroundings


Many children score in the slow learner or mild Intellectual Disability range on IQ tests...Contrary to this belief, many of my students are low, but many are also of average or above average intelligence.




All of behavior problems involve aggression… No, many times the end result is anger and aggression, but a lot of times students get extremely excited and don’t know how to calm down.

Other behaviors can include:


  • Mood swings, inappropriate vocalizations, anxiousness, lack of motivation, and hyperactivity, withdraw and immaturity


It's Not Always About You

These students are dealing with many different factors, environmental, biological and what ever else is going on in their head, many times it's just a way for them to deal with their frustration regardless of what it is...and you just happen to be a person in their world.

Tips and Tricks


  • Set clear expectations for the school day and employ throughout the school. School Wide Positive Behavior Support.
  • Give directions clearly and explicitly
  • Offer choice throughout the day
  • Give students a way to maintain the function of their behavior, but do so appropriately, for example if the function is attention: when a student uses a quiet raised hand call on them or recognize that you see it
  • Break work down and give breaks when needed
  • DO NOT RESTRAIN or engage in the power struggle, it adds fuel to the fire!
  • Focus on the positives and when giving a redirection, do so quietly and privately yet still in the moment.
  • Maintain consistency and routine
  • Directly and systematically instruct to social skills behavior, language development, and ways to manage their behavior
  • Stop behaviors before they occur, when behaviors occur have that plan in place, also have a designated area the student can go to calm down privately.
  • Ignore low level behaviors and provide feedback about behaviors
  • Plan engaging lessons, prepare, manage transitional times
  • Take into consideration the behaviors in your classroom and ways to prevent them from happening. Prevention is key!
  • Teach for success! Make sure materials aren't too frustrating, overstimulating or boring. They must be relevant and interesting to the student.
  • Collaborate as much as possible with families.


References