Emotional or Behavioral Disorders Defined (page 5)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Oct 25, 2010

Examples of Externalizing and Internalizing Behavior Problems

Externalizing Behaviors Internalizing Behaviors
Violates basic rights of others Exhibits painful shyness
Violates societal norms or rules Is teased by peers
Has tantrums Is neglected by peers
Steals; causes property loss or damage Is depressed
Is hostile or defiant; argues Is anorexic
Ignores teachers' reprimands Is bulimic
Demonstrates obsessive/compulsive behaviors Is socially withdrawn
Causes or threatens physical harm to people or animals Tends to be suicidal
Uses lewd or obscene gestures Has unfounded fears and phobias
Is hyperactive Tends to have low self-esteem
  Has excessive worries

Low Incidence Disorders

Some disorders occur very infrequently but are quite serious when they do occur. Consider schizophrenia, which can have tragic consequences for the individuals involved and their families. Schizophrenia, sometimes considered a form of psychosis or a type of pervasive developmental disability (APA, 2000), is an extremely rare disorder in children, although approximately 1 percent of the general population over the age of 18 has been diagnosed as having schizophrenia. When it occurs, it places great demands on service systems. It usually involves bizarre delusions (such as believing one's thoughts are controlled by the police), hallucinations (such as voices telling one what to think), "loosening" of associations (disconnected thoughts), and incoherence. Schizophrenia is most prevalent between the ages of 15 and 45, and experts agree that the earlier the onset, the more severe the disturbance in adulthood (Newcomer, 1993). Children with schizophrenia have serious difficulties with schoolwork and often must live in special hospital and educational settings during part of their childhood. Their IEPs are complex and require the collaboration of members from a multidisciplinary team.

Excluded Behavior Problems

Two groups of children—the socially maladjusted and those with conduct disorders—are not eligible for special education services (unless they have another qualifying condition as well). Neither group is included in the IDEA '04 definition. Although social maladjustment is widely discussed, particularly when politicians and educators talk about discipline and violence in schools, IDEA '04 does not call it out as a special education category or as a subcategory of emotional or behavioral disorders. In me DSM-IV-TR, the APA defines conduct disorders as "a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules are violated" (2000, p. 93). Section 504 and ADA do not have exclusions for social maladjustment, so the educational system is required to make accommodations for these students even though they do not qualify for special education services (Zirkel, 1999).

The law is clear that social maladjustment and conduct disorders are not subsets of emotional or behavioral disorders, but how to help such students, in practice, is much less clear (Costenbader & Buntaine, 1999). Why is there confusion about the educational needs of children who are socially maladjusted or who have conduct disorders? Some explanations are related to definitional issues; others are related to what people think is best for the students involved (Kauffman, 1999; Walker et al., 2001). Here are five reasons:

  1. No generally agreed-upon definition of social maladjustment exists.
  2. It is very difficult to distinguish students with externalizing emotional or behavioral disorders from students with conduct disorders.
  3. A more inclusive definition will increase special education enrollment to levels beyond tolerance and acceptability.
  4. Because the needs of students with conduct disorders are best met by specialists prepared to deal with their problems, they should be identified as special education students, even if technically they do not qualify as students with disabilities.
  5. Many people believe these students are just choosing to misbehave and do not have disabilities.
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