Emotional and Behavioral Disorders in Children: Characteristics (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Dec 8, 2010

Internalizing Behaviors

Some children with emotional and behavioral disorders are anything but aggressive. Their problem is the opposite—too little social interaction with others. They are said to have internalizing behavioral disorders. Although children who consistently act immaturely and withdrawn do not present the threat to others that antisocial children do, their behavior creates a serious impediment to their development. These children seldom play with others their own age. They usually do not have the social skills needed to make friends and have fun, and they often retreat into daydreams and fantasies. Some are fearful of things without reason, frequently complain of being sick or hurt, and go into deep bouts of depression. Obviously, such behavior limits a child’s chances to take part in and learn from the school and leisure activities in which normal children participate.

Children who exhibit the internalizing behaviors characteristic of some types of anxiety and mood disorders may be less disturbing to classroom teachers than are antisocial children. Because of this, they are in danger of not being identified. Happily, the outlook is fairly good for the child with mild or moderate degrees of withdrawn and immature behavior who is fortunate enough to have competent teachers and other school professionals responsible for his development. Carefully targeting the social and self-determination skills the child should learn and systematically arranging opportunities for and reinforcing those behaviors often prove successful.

It is a grave mistake, however, to believe that children with emotional disorders that result primarily in internalizing behaviors have only mild and transient problems. The severe anxiety and mood disorders experienced by some children not only cause pervasive impairments in their educational performance—they also threaten their very existence. Indeed, without identification and effective treatment, the extreme emotional disorders of some children can lead to self-inflicted injury or even death from substance abuse, starvation, or suicidal behavior.

Academic Achievement

Most students with emotional and behavioral disorders perform one or more years below grade level academically (Cullinan, 2002). Many of these students exhibit significant deficiencies in reading (Coleman & Vaughn, 2000; Maughan, Pickles, Hagell, Rutter, & Yule, 1996) and in math achievement (Greenbaum et al., 1996). In addition to the challenges to learning caused by their behavioral excesses and deficits, many students with emotional or behavioral disorders also have learning disabilities and/or language delays, which compound their difficulties in mastering academic skills and content (Glassberg, Hooper, & Mattison, 1999; Kaiser, Hancock, Cai, Foster, & Hester, 2000).

The following dismal academic outcomes for students with emotional and behavioral disorders are derived from several nationwide studies (Chesapeake Institute, 1994; U.S. Department of Education, 1998, 1999; Valdes, Williamson, & Wagner, 1990):

  • Two-thirds cannot pass competency exams for their grade level.
  • They have the lowest grade-point average of any group of students with disabilities.
  • They have the highest absenteeism rate of any group of students.
  • Only 20%–25% leave high school with a diploma or certificate of completion, compared to 50% of all students with disabilities and 76% of all youth in the general population.
  • More than 50% drop out of high school.

The strong correlation between low academic achievement and behavioral problems is not a one-way relationship. The disruptive and defiant behavior of students with emotional and behavioral disorders “almost always leads to academic failure. This failure, in turn, predisposes them to further antisocial conduct” (Hallenbeck & Kauffman, 1995, p. 64).

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