Effects of Emotional Impairments Across the Lifespan

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

As a special education teacher, you may be wondering how your students' disabilities might impact the rest of their lives. This lesson addresses the effects of emotional impairments across the lifespan.

Living with Emotional Impairments

As a special education teacher who works with students with emotional impairments, or disabilities and mental illnesses that interfere with their capacity to regulate emotions, Amanda is very interested in all facets of her students' lives. After all, she knows that she is not only responsible for their academic growth, but for supporting their development as whole and complex individuals.

Amanda knows that no two individuals with emotional impairments are exactly alike. Their developmental trajectory will depend on so many factors, including the nature of their impairment, how much support they receive along the way, and what else is going on with their lives.

However, she is also interested in some of the more general ways that an emotional impairment can affect a student's life.

Educational Experiences

Amanda is most familiar with how emotional impairments impact her students' educational experiences. For example, she knows that having to devote so much time to learning emotional regulation can prevent her students from getting as much as their peers out of academic instruction.

Amanda also knows that early diagnosis, intervention, and support can make a major difference in how her students are able to experience school. For many children with emotional impairments, school is a place where they get a solid diagnosis and are able to start getting the support and help they need. For others, however, school can be a challenging and overstimulating environment, where their needs are misunderstood.

Amanda tries to do the best she can by her students over the course of their educational journey, because she knows this can powerfully impact the rest of their developmental trajectory.

Career and Vocation

Amanda is also interested in her students' possible career trajectories. How, she wonders, does having an emotional disability affect a person's capacity to hold down a job or find meaning in his work?

Amanda learns that many people with emotional impairments have rich and successful careers. However, she also learns about the following common challenges:

  • Ongoing struggles with self-regulation may make these individuals prone to aggressive outbursts and impulsivity, which makes them unlikely candidates for many collaborative or public facing jobs.
  • Many of these individuals benefit from rigid routines, making them more inclined toward very steady work with infrequent changes.
  • Many people with emotional impairments are also very creative and might succeed at work that allows them to express their creativity.
  • Many people with emotional impairments are socially anxious and struggle in relationships, making solitary work more appealing than collaborative work.

As she prepares her students for the world outside of school, Amanda focuses on helping each of them find their unique strengths and struggles, then thinks about how these might translate into a job or a career path.

Personal Relationships

Amanda knows that relationships with others can be particularly challenging for her students. She often works with social stories and scripts, or excerpts of explicit language designed to provide her students with strategies for navigating relational scenarios.

However, she learns that people with emotional impairments can have strong and ongoing relationships with family and friends. One key is helping them get to know themselves so that they can communicate their challenges and needs to others respectfully.

Amanda also knows that authentically listening to and supporting others can be a challenge for her students. She finds that their most fulfilling relationships are with friends and family members who are not unduly needy in their own right, and who are able to accept Amanda's students for who they are.

Some relational challenges Amanda's students face include:

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