5 Signs of Emotional Disturbance

Here's what to look for if you suspect your student might be emotionally disturbed.

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Beyond the Norm

Children with emotional disturbance display behaviors that are not typical for their given age or culture. Read about 5 core characteristics of children with emotional and behavioral disabilities.

1. Externalizing Behaviors

Students with emotional disturbance frequently display externalizing, or acting-out behaviors. This includes noncompliance, such as ignoring the teacher or not following directions.

1. Externalizing Behaviors (continued)

Externalizing behaviors can also involve disruptive and aggressive actions, such as hitting, fighting, yelling out, destroying property, and stealing. These students do not follow teacher corrections, do not complete assignments, and they are often excluded by peers.

2. Internalizing Behaviors

Other children with emotional and behavioral disabilities can be the opposite of aggressive. They may have severe depression, mood or anxiety disorders.

2. Internalizing Behaviors (continued)

These children act immature, withdrawn, and rarely play with children their own age. They may frequently daydream, complain of sickness or hurt, or self-inflict injury.

3. Academic Achievement

Destructive behaviors of children with emotional or behavioral disabilities almost always leads to academic failure.

3. Academic Achievement (continued)

Most children with emotional disturbance perform one or more years below grade level. More than 50% drop out of high school, and only 20 to 25% earn a diploma or certificate of completion.

4. Intelligence

IQ tests measure how well students perform on given tasks during a certain time. Considering that IQ tests are affected by previous learning and attending to the task at hand, students who have difficulty paying attention in class—like students with behavioral disorders—may not do as well on IQ tests.

4. Intelligence (continued)

More learners with emotional and behavioral disabilities score in the slow learner or mentally disabled range on IQ tests than do children without disabilities.

6. Social Skills

Some children with mild intellectual disabilities may have great social skills, and other kids may need social skills training. Students may have trouble understanding the content of interactions and expectations for friendships.

6. Social Skills (continued)

Directly teaching social skills can give kids the tools to succeed. Placing students in the general classroom with age-appropriate peers as much as possible can give kids more opportunities to socialize.

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