What are Emotional & Behavioral Disorders?

Denise DeCooman, Abigail Cook
  • Author
    Denise DeCooman

    Denise DeCooman was a teaching assistant for the General Zoology course at California University of Pennsylvania while she earned her Master's of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from fall semester of 2015 and spring of 2017. She also has a Bachelor's of Science in Biological Sciences from California University. She has been writing instructional content for an educational consultant based out of the greater Pittsburgh area since January 2020.

  • Instructor
    Abigail Cook
Learn the definition of an emotional behavioral disorder (EBD). Discover the types of emotional disorders and their characteristics, causes, and symptoms. Updated: 12/24/2021

Emotional & Behavioral Disorders

Emotional and behavioral disorders (or EBD, as an abbreviation) are general terms for patterns of emotional regulation and behavior, typically in school age children. EBD is defined as maladaptive and interferes with the ability of a student to form appropriate relationships with peers and/or adults with whom they have regular contact. The characteristics of emotional and behavioral disorders include that these behaviors are chronic (occur frequently over a long period of time, such as months or even years), the behaviors are considered to be inappropriate in a classroom or social setting, and the behaviors are extreme.

Emotional and behavioral disorders also impede the ability to learn of the afflicted individual, which leads to lower test scores and problems in other academic areas. Consequently, these types of disorders are correlated with less postsecondary education, problems with familial relationships, and employment problems in adults who exhibited symptoms of these types of disorders as children.

There are a few root causes of emotional and behavioral disorders, which include instability in home life, a history of trauma or adverse childhood experiences, and family history of behavioral or psychiatric conditions. Emotional and behavioral disorders are sometimes referred to as emotional disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, is a federal law enacted with the intention of protecting the rights of students with disabilities. In order to be considered to have an _emotional disturbance (which is how IDEA classifies emotional or behavioral disorders), according to IDEA, at least one of the following diagnostic criteria must be met:

  • Learning difficulty not attributed to intelligence, health, or sensory factors
  • Inability to experience happiness most of the time
  • Difficulties with peer and/or adult relationships
  • Development of medical problems routed in psychological problems
  • Unacceptable behaviors present in the classroom or other settings

Along with fitting one of the aforementioned criteria, the EBD must be chronic, and last at least several months, while detrimentally affecting the students academic performance.

Emotional & Behavioral Disorders

Teachers have the opportunity to observe many different students that come in and out of their classes each year. These students are all unique in their abilities, interests, and challenges. Some students fit in well in a mainstream setting, making progress on the core curriculum and forming healthy relationships with peers.

However, once in a while, teachers will work with students who have severe emotional and behavioral challenges. These students may seem like loners, avoiding interaction with classmates and adults. They may get into fights with other students, or engage in self-injurious behaviors. Their academic performance will be significantly lower than the rest of their peers.

When these symptoms persist, teachers should begin looking into emotional and behavioral disorders and how these students might qualify for and benefit from special education services.

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Characteristics of Emotional Disturbance

Certain behavioral traits are exhibited by those with an emotional disturbance, which can include at least one of any of the following characteristics:

  • Aggression or anger towards other people or self
  • Impulsivity
  • Maladaptive methods of coping with problems
  • Poor performance on tests and other graded assignments
  • A lack of or unhealthy relationships with peers/adults
  • Lack of focus
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of maturity considering where the individual should be developmentally

Emotionally Health Children Form Positive Peer Relationships

Emotionally Health Children Form Positive Peer Relationships

Causes of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

It is believed that some of the risk factors and potential causes for EBD include instability in home life, traumatic or adverse experiences, and history of behavioral disorders within the family of the person suffering. Past physical, sexual, or psychological abuse are risk factors for EBD.

Other factors which increase the possibility of developing EBD include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Substance abuse during pregnancy of the biological mother
  • Too rigid or too lenient of parenting style
  • Neglect

Treatment for EBD depends on both the type and severity of the EBD. Assessment and planning an individualized approach are the best methods of practice for the treatment of EBD currently. This can include interventions made by the school in the form of an IEP, or an Individualized Education Plan. IEP's are created by a multidisciplinary approach in which a school psychologist, the student's teachers, and sometimes other related professionals discuss and formulate appropriate interventions to help the student with an emotional disability. Social skills training and parenting education may also be helpful. Sometimes therapy and psychotropic pharmaceuticals are utilized if the student has a more severe emotional disturbance.

Many Children Experiencing EBD Have Been Subjected to Physical, Sexual, or Psychological Abuse

Many Children Experiencing EBD Have Been Subjected to Physical, Sexual, or Psychological Abuse

Types of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

There are several social emotional disorders and behavioral disorders which are relatively common in school age children. The types of common EBD this lesson will address are: anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and conduct disorder.

Anxiety

Anxiety is an emotional disorder in which an illogical fear is brought about by everyday types of situations.. Anxiety can lead to somatic symptoms, like trouble sleeping or stomach aches. Anxiety is often treated with therapy and sometimes via use of psychiatric medications.

Definition & Characteristics

The Individual with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) classifies emotional and behavioral disorders under a category called emotional disturbance. In order to qualify under emotional disturbance, a child must exhibit at least one of the following characteristics:

  • The development of physical symptoms related to personal problems
  • Persistent unhappy or depressed moods
  • A lack of personal relationships with peers and adults
  • An inability to learn that isn't caused by another disability
  • Inappropriate behavior or feelings in normal situations

IDEA also clarifies that these characteristics must be observed over a long period of time and adversely affect a student's performance in school. This means that teachers will see a student's grades and test scores drop and not recover without special help.

When a student is classified under emotional disturbance, teachers can expect to see a variety of challenging behaviors. Some of these characteristics are listed here:

  • A lack of peer relationships due to fear or anxiety
  • Poor attention span
  • Low academic performance
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Aggression toward self or others
  • Poor coping skills and immaturity

Not every student with an emotional disturbance will exhibit all of these behaviors. Sometimes, these behaviors change due to different phases of a child's development. The underlying similarity found among students with emotional disturbances is that these challenging behaviors persist and cannot be overcome or changed without individualized intervention.

Specific Disorders

Emotional disturbance covers many different students who display a variety of characteristics. Sometimes, these students have an actual mental illness or disorder. Let's look at some of the specific disorders that fall under the umbrella of emotional disturbance.

1. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) occurs when a child has unwanted, reoccurring thoughts and engages in repetitive behaviors. Children with OCD may be overly concerned with cleanliness or counting. They usually engage in rituals, such as handwashing or color coordinating, to avoid severe anxiety. These characteristics and routines make it difficult for them to function in normal situations.

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Video Transcript

Emotional & Behavioral Disorders

Teachers have the opportunity to observe many different students that come in and out of their classes each year. These students are all unique in their abilities, interests, and challenges. Some students fit in well in a mainstream setting, making progress on the core curriculum and forming healthy relationships with peers.

However, once in a while, teachers will work with students who have severe emotional and behavioral challenges. These students may seem like loners, avoiding interaction with classmates and adults. They may get into fights with other students, or engage in self-injurious behaviors. Their academic performance will be significantly lower than the rest of their peers.

When these symptoms persist, teachers should begin looking into emotional and behavioral disorders and how these students might qualify for and benefit from special education services.

Definition & Characteristics

The Individual with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) classifies emotional and behavioral disorders under a category called emotional disturbance. In order to qualify under emotional disturbance, a child must exhibit at least one of the following characteristics:

  • The development of physical symptoms related to personal problems
  • Persistent unhappy or depressed moods
  • A lack of personal relationships with peers and adults
  • An inability to learn that isn't caused by another disability
  • Inappropriate behavior or feelings in normal situations

IDEA also clarifies that these characteristics must be observed over a long period of time and adversely affect a student's performance in school. This means that teachers will see a student's grades and test scores drop and not recover without special help.

When a student is classified under emotional disturbance, teachers can expect to see a variety of challenging behaviors. Some of these characteristics are listed here:

  • A lack of peer relationships due to fear or anxiety
  • Poor attention span
  • Low academic performance
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Aggression toward self or others
  • Poor coping skills and immaturity

Not every student with an emotional disturbance will exhibit all of these behaviors. Sometimes, these behaviors change due to different phases of a child's development. The underlying similarity found among students with emotional disturbances is that these challenging behaviors persist and cannot be overcome or changed without individualized intervention.

Specific Disorders

Emotional disturbance covers many different students who display a variety of characteristics. Sometimes, these students have an actual mental illness or disorder. Let's look at some of the specific disorders that fall under the umbrella of emotional disturbance.

1. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) occurs when a child has unwanted, reoccurring thoughts and engages in repetitive behaviors. Children with OCD may be overly concerned with cleanliness or counting. They usually engage in rituals, such as handwashing or color coordinating, to avoid severe anxiety. These characteristics and routines make it difficult for them to function in normal situations.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are some examples of emotional disabilities?

Examples of emotional disabilities include anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. Other examples of emotional disabilities include, but are not limited to, eating disorders, conduct disorder, and bipolar disorder.

What causes emotional behavioral disorders?

There are several different causes of emotional and behavioral disorders. The most common include an unstable home life, trauma, and a family history of mental disorders.

What are some emotional behavioral disorders?

Some emotional and behavioral disorders include obsessive compulsive disorders and eating disorders. Other EBD include bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, and anxiety.

What are the characteristics of EBD?

EBD are chronic, which means that they occur over a long period of time. EBD behaiors are inappropriate considering the setting and developmental status of the individual and interfere with learning.

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