Many emotionally disturbed children are eligible for special education if their emotional condition occurs over a period of time to a significant degree and it adversely affects their educational performance. According to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) a child with an emotional disturbance must exhibit one or more of the characteristics: ” an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors, and inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers, inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances, a general; a pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression and/or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.”
Each state in the United States has regulations of their own to carry out the policies in IDEA. Some parents find it confusing that each state is allowed to determine what to name their categories of disabilities. For example; children with emotional and/or behavioral disabilities may be categorized under many different names, such as; emotionally disturbed, behaviorally disordered, significant identifiable emotional disability, emotional/behavioral disability and likely others I am unaware of. Regardless of what the disability category is called, if your child qualifies he or she is entitled to an Individualized Education Program (IEP) with annual goals and objectives, services and accommodations and modifications.
I have worked with many children with emotional disturbances who were in a self-contained classroom setting or integrated into the general education population with pullout and/or inclusion support. The diagnoses of the children I have worked with most often over my career as an educator are children with bi-polar disorder, anxiety disorder, reactive attachment disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. Some children with emotional disabilities are stabilized through medication and private therapy and their emotional disability does not negatively affect their education for long periods. Other children with these diagnoses tend to exhibit many behaviors as well as learning difficulties because of their emotional disabilities.
If your child qualifies for special education under the category of emotional disturbance, many interventions may be used in either the general education or special education setting to assist your child in experiencing more educational success. Some of the most common are: individual psycho-educational counseling, general group counseling or topical group counseling such as anger management or social skills, classes or participation in curricula in social skills, study skills and life skills, having a check-in/check-out person, graphic organizers to help with organizational skills, a designated “cool down” place to can go if the child gets overly angry, anxious or emotional, designated seating, testing and/or instruction in a smaller environment and a regular home-school communication system.
If you have a child with an emotional disability who has experienced significant struggles with school for an extended period of time and meets one or more the criteria listed in the first paragraph of this article, you may want to request, in writing, a special education evaluation from your child’s school to determine their eligibility.