Emotional Disturbance (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Issues in Identification and Assessment of Emotional Disturbance

Individuals with emotional disabilities are difficult to objectively identify and classify. Moreover, there appears to be a reluctance on the part of school personnel to label a child “emotionally disturbed” (Kauffman, 2005). Traditional measures to identify emotional or behavioral disabilities include teacher checklists; parental checklists; classroom behavioral observations; and tests of intelligence, achievement, and psychological status. Checklists are listings of frequently observed behaviors. Teachers and parents complete checklists by indicating the types and severity of problem behaviors. Direct observations are conducted during classes, on the playground, at lunch, and in other parts of the school.

Characteristics of Emotional Disturbance

As with most students with disabilities, not all individuals with emotional disturbance will exhibit all the characteristics described here.

Social Behavior

Most students with emotional disturbance have problems with their social behavior, often manifested as less mature or inappropriate social skills (Kauffman, 2005). Some students may be particularly aggressive with peers and adults and cause harm when playing or interacting with others. These students act out in class, do not appear to respond appropriately to discipline from teachers and may seem oblivious to class and school rules (Furlong, Morrison, & Jimerson, 2004). Students with behavioral disorders are at higher risk for substance abuse (Steele, Forehand, Armistead, & Brody, 1995).

Other students may exhibit social behavior similar to that of younger children and act socially immature. Some students may withdraw from others and appear socially isolated. Although withdrawn students may not call as much attention to themselves as conduct-disordered students they nonetheless may require intensive interventions (Gresham & Kern, 2004). These students may exhibit symptoms of depression. Social isolates do not interact with any peers or adults, and in the most severe cases may exhibit selective (or elective) mutism. Individuals with selective mutism have the physical ability to talk but nevertheless do not speak in appropriate situations (Brigham & Cole, 1999). All of these emotional or behavioral disorders share the characteristic of an inability to interact appropriately with others, including peers, teachers, siblings, and parents, which negatively affects school performance (Cullinan, 2004).

Students with emotional disturbance may also inappropriately attribute their behavioral or social problems to causes outside themselves, saying things such as, “Teachers are out to get me,” or “Other kids always get me into trouble.” By doing this, these students are able to avoid acknowledging or evaluating their own behavior and their own role in behavior problems.

Affective Characteristics

Some students with emotional disturbances have serious affective disorders. Affective disorders can take many forms, but the most commonly recognized forms include depression, severe anxiety disorders, phobias, and psychosomatic disorders (Kauffman, 2005). Individuals with many of these disorders may be treated with different medications.

Academic Characteristics

Research has indicated that students may function two or more years below grade level in reading, math, writing, and spelling (Lane, 2004; Reid, Gonzalez, Nordness, Trout, & Epstein, 2004; see the Research Highlight feature). These deficiencies may be related to the emotional disabilities. For example, if students have severe anxieties, they may be unable to attend, listen, and learn in school. Some students lack social skills that are necessary for school success (Kavale, Mathur, & Mostert, 2004). Others may exhibit severe deficiencies in metacognitive skills, memory skills, and attention, which may in turn lead to academic underachievement (Montague, Fiore, Hocutt, McKinney, & Harris, 1996). Students with emotional disturbance are at risk for dropping out of school, hindering their future life possibilities. Nevertheless, some students with emotional or behavioral disabilities attain average, or even above-average academic achievement.

Classroom Adaptations for Students with Emotional Disabilities

General adaptations can facilitate the inclusion of students with emotional and behavioral disorders into general education classes.  Some specific adaptations to promote successful inclusion are presented next.

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