According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), emotional or behavioral disorder (EBD) is a condition that exhibits one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to such a degree that it adversely impacts a child’s educational performance: 1) a general, pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; 2) inappropriate types of feelings or behavior under normal circumstances; 3) an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with teachers and peers; 4) a tendency to develop fears or physical symptoms associated with school or personal problems; and/or 5) an inability to learn that cannot be explained by sensory, health, or intellectual factors.
EBD is also referred to as an emotional disturbance. Emotionally disturbed children may exhibit limitations in the areas of memory, concentration, social skills, organization and prioritization, stamina, responding to change, screening out environmental stimuli, time management, communication, and managing stress.
Many kinds of emotional or behavioral disorders exist. Some of the most common types are bipolar disorders, personality disorders, conduct disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychotic disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, and anxiety disorders.
Children living with EBD often express a variety of behaviors. They may be easily distracted or less attentive, and they may frequently skip school or act disruptively when they do attend. They may have difficulty establishing relationships and often underperform academically far below their non-disabled classmates, particularly in the areas of math, writing, and reading. And emotionally disturbed children may bully other students, manipulate situations, or behave dishonestly.
When it comes to making accommodations for students with EBD, it is important to know that just because two people might have the same diagnosis does not mean that their disorder will manifest itself the same way. Every individual has unique needs, so there is no comprehensive list of accommodations that is appropriate to a specific disorder; accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis.
Educational programs designed for students with serious emotional disturbance should pay close attention to increasing self-awareness, self-control, and self-esteem, mastering academic learning, and developing social skills. Each diagnosed student will have an individualized education program (IEP) that will articulate the accommodations that the student will receive in the classroom and during testing.
The most common types of accommodations include opportunities for breaks, one-on-one aides, behavioral specialists, rewards for making good choices, and reduced assignments. In addition to specific accommodations, related services that might help emotionally disturbed students include counseling services, social skills training, school health services, and psychological services.
The IDEA requires that school districts ensure emotionally disturbed students, just like other special education students, are educated alongside their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent possible. Removal from regular classrooms, special classes, or separate schooling should be reserved for instances when the nature and severity of the disability is so great that, even with the use of supplemental aids and services, regular classroom learning is impossible.