The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
Disorders in the Classroom
Teachers are often the first adults to suspect when their students suffer from an emotional disorder. Inappropriate classroom behaviors are early signs of emotional struggles. Within a school setting, children suffering from Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBDs) demonstrate an array of challenges that make learning and socializing difficult. Understanding their needs is critical to their academic success and emotional health.
How EBDs Are Identified
Physicians, social workers, or psychologists are qualified to diagnose EBDs using criteria established as part of IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), which has proven to be a big help in dealing with issues involving children’s psychology. When students have consistent trouble building relationships with peers, working as part of a team, or persistently demonstrate inappropriate behaviors and emotions (depression or irrational fear), they qualify for special services.
In 2011, more than 370,000 children between the ages of 6 and 21 received school-based support because of their EBDs, thanks to IDEA. The parents of over 8 million children aged 4 to 17 sought a potential diagnosis and support for their children and nearly 3 million children received prescription medications to treat and control severe EBDs.
Support for Teachers
Since they are frequently first to identify emotional and behavioral problems, teachers can learn how to help these students while maintaining safety in the classroom. Peer tutoring has proven effective, but sometimes students with emotional issues become aggressive. Teachers are advised to make accommodations for students with EBDs without undermining class rules, but also to seek help when they need it. Their goal is to address the needs of students individually, a caring approach which acknowledges that each child with an EBD is unique.
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Emotional & Behavioral Disorders in the Classroom
1 Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
What are Emotional and behavior disorders?
Emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) is an umbrella term encompassing multiple disorders wherein a child’s affect or behavior are atypical.
EBDs can vary in severity with no clear cutoff between typical behavior, troubling behavior, and serious behavioral issues.
Not all children who experience an EBD will meet diagnostic and criteria, but just because they do not meet criteria does not mean they do not need help
2 The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
IDEA guides schools in the identification process for qualifying students under the disability category of emotional disturbance
Students may meet eligibility criteria by meeting one of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a degree that significantly impacts a child’s educational performance
- An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory or health factors
- An inability to build or maintain satisfactory relationships with peers and teachers
- A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression
- Inappropriate behaviors or feelings under normal circumstances
- A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems
Students may have an established diagnosis from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition (DSM-V) made by a physician, licensed social worker, or licensed psychologist, but it is not required to meet criteria for eligibility.
Similarly, a diagnosis does not automatically result in a student meeting eligibility criteria
3 Prevalence of EBDs
EBDs are the fourth largest disability category under IDEA
In 2011, over 371,000 students (ages 6 to 21) received special education and other services in public schools under the category of “emotional disturbance”
The CDC reports almost almost 8.3 million children 4 – 17 (14.5%0 have parents who have talked with a health care provider or school staff about the child’s emotional or behavioral difficulties
Nearly 2.9 million children have been prescribed medication for these difficulties
4 In the classroom
Research has shown that using peers is effective for improving academic achievement, time on tasks, and behavior of students with disabilities and EBDs
Classwide Peer Tutoring (CWPT) is the most researched and widely recognized effective peer tutoring, wherein students are assigned to pairs to peer tutor each other
A² + B² + C²
TIPS for Teachers
- Do not dismiss the problem
- Teachers are often the first to suspect an undiagnosed EBD and the sooner the children can receive help, the sooner they can improve
- Learn about the individual student
- Two students with the same EBD will still learn differently. You will need to learn about each student’s strengths and challenges
- Remember these students are children
- Children with emotional and behavioral disorders are not scary or “time bombs,” they need support. Do not permit bullying, teasing, demeaning, or exclusion of the student by other students or by the system
- Join the student’s IEP team
- Help shape the special education program and ensure it includes appropriate accommodations for the student’s needs
- Provide accommodations
- Follow the accommodations in the student’s IEP
- Advocate for Teacher’s needs
- Teachers can also advocate for resources and support for themselves to better aid the student
- One third of new special education teachers leave the profession after only three years, which is largely attributed to lack of administrative support
- Set clear behavioral rules and expectations for the entire class
- A classroom management plan is recommended to provide structure, understand consequences, and develop a shared approach to appropriate behavior
- Teacher classroom management practices have a significant, positive effect on decreasing disruptive, inappropriate, and aggressive behavior in the classroom
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