9 Basics of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Find out three causes, identification methods and prevention tips for emotional and behavioral disorders.

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Cause #1: Biology

Mood disorders, depression, and schizophrenia may have a genetic basis. Mothers who drink or take drugs during pregnancy are more likely to have children with disabilities. A study shows that 53% of drug-exposed participants in Head-Start preschools are identified with disabilities as early as kindergarten.

Cause #2: Home and Community

Combinations of poverty, abuse, neglect, inconsistent expectations, and parental stress over a long period of time can spur emotional or behavioral difficulties. Lack of supervision, punitive discipline, and few positive adult role models can shape students' behaviors and goals.

Cause #3: School

Effective teaching and behavior management can improve students' attitudes toward school. Likewise, unskilled teaching and poor classroom management can damage students' potential to succeed. Safe and effective schools have supervision, cultural sensitivity, high levels of parent and community involvement, and a positive school climate.

Identification #1: Immature Behavior

When children display behaviors inappropriate for their age it does not necessarily mean that they have an emotional or behavioral disorder, but parents and educators should take notice. For example, an 8 year-old who starts to wet his bed, cling to his mother, or stop talking is more concerning than a toddler showing these behaviors.

Identification #2: Standardized Methods

Standardized evaluation instruments provide an objective way to compare a given student's behaviors with a population of students who were diagnosed with emotional and behavioral disorders. The Student Risk Screening Scale and the Systematic Screening for Behavior Disorders are two assessment instruments that help identify students with emotional and behavioral disabilities.

Identification #3: Unfair Representation

A disproportionately high number of African American males are identified with having emotional and behavioral disorders, whereas girls and Asian Americans are underrepresented in this special education category. More reliable, objective methods for identification are needed.

Prevention #1: Medical Management

Medicine can be used to reduce symptoms during an early onset or treat the condition later on. Antidepressants are often helpful for students who suffer from mood disorders, anxiety disorders, or schizophrenia. Prescribed medications are most powerful when used with behavior management techniques.

Prevention #2: Positive Behavioral Support

Positive Behavioral Support, or PBS, is a preventative school-wide approach for promoting desirable behaviors in all students. PBS provides more intensive, individualized levels of support as needed by students. Schools that use PBS have less office referrals and improved academics.

Prevention #3: Functional Behavior Assessment

Students with emotional and behavioral difficulties often benefit from functional behavior assessments. This individualized problem-solving process looks at the motivations, or reasons for the child's misbehavior.

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