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Gallaudet Univeristy
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Emotional/Behavioral Disorders

Many terms are used to describe emotional, behavioral or mental disorders. Currently, students with such disorders are categorized as having an emotional disturbance, which is defined under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as follows: "...a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects 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 interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers
  • Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances
  • A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression
  • A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school factors.

-[Code of Federal Regulations, Title 34, Section 300.7(c)(4)(i)]

As defined by the IDEA, emotional disturbance includes schizophrenia but does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance. [Code of Federal Regulation, Title 34, Section 300.7(c)(4)(ii)]

Characteristics which identify an individual as having a behavior disorders are demonstrated in a variety of settings, with little consideration or understanding of social or cultural rules.

Academic characteristics

  • Disrupts classroom activities
  • Impulsive
  • Inattentive, distractible
  • Preoccupied
  • Does not follow or appear to care about classroom rules
  • Poor concentration
  • Resistance to change and transitions in routines
  • Often speaks out with irrelevant information or without regard to turn taking rules 
  • Demonstrates aggressive behavior
  • Intimidates and bullies other students
  • Regularly absent from school
  • consistently blames others for their dishonesty
  • Low self esteem
  • Difficulty working in groups
  • Demonstrate self injurious behavior
  • Can not apply social rules related to others personal space and belongings
  • Often manipulative of situations

If a student demonstrates behaviors listed above they may be considered to have a behavior disorder.  A psychologist or behavior specialist is most likely to be able to provide an appropriate diagnosis for a child, based on observations, check lists and behavior documentation.

Educational Recommendations
Teaching strategies for these students should be based on changing the behavior itself. The system is often centered on discouraging the unwanted behavior and rewarding/encouraging the desired behavior.

  1. Specifically identify the behavior which needs to be changed.
  2. Create a baseline of the observed behavior.
  3. Closely examine the information in the baseline and evaluate what has been observed and documented
  4. Develop short and long term goals for the student. In the plan create a reward system to be used. Such as: give student a check mark for every 15 minutes behavior is appropriate. When the student receives 8 checks they may have 10 minutes of computer time.
  5. Reevaluate the plan for effectiveness. Has the behavior reduced occurrence in a variety of settings?
  6. Make modifications in the behavior plan to reinforce the desired outcome.

A behavior modification chart is a widely accepted tool to help a child visually understand the key behavior expectations and track their progress. 

The Association for Comprehensive NeuroTherapy (CAN) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to exploring advanced and alternative non-toxic treatment for children with a variety of social and emotional disorders. The site links to several behavior modification charts.

Deafness and Emotional Behavior Disorder
Research by Meadow and Trybus (1985) reported a greater prevalence of Emotional/Behavior Disorder among Deaf students, finding the incident rate of 8.4% to 9.6%. Identification of students with Emotional/Behavioral Disorder is problematic because there is no standardized method to identify these children. The researchers found that identification of a deaf student with EBD was determined by the presence of one or more of the following traits: low need achievement, aggressiveness, anxiety, hostile isolation, academic disability, uncontrollable behavior, and hyperactivity.

There are residential programs focusing on the needs of deaf and hard of hearing children with emotional/behavioral disorders in various parts of the United States. Programs for deaf children with emotional/behavioral disorders


Meadow, P. K., & Trybus, J. R. (1985). Behavioral and emotional problems of deaf children: An overview. In L. J. Bradford & W. G. Hardy (Eds.), Hearing and hearing impairment (pp. 395-415). New York: Grune & Stratton.


Bambara, L, Fogt, J., Kern, L. (2002) Class-wide curricular modifications to improve the behavior of students with emotional or behavior disorders.  Behavioral Disorders, 27(4), 317-326.

Burrello, L.C., & Wright, P.T. (Eds.). (1993, Winter). Strategies for inclusion of behaviorally challenging students. Bloomington, IN: Council of Administrators of Special Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 358 654)

Culpepper, M., Kamps, D., Wendland, M. (2006). Active teacher participation in functional behavior assessments for students with emotional behavior disorders risks in general education classrooms. Behavior Disorders, 31(2), 128-146

Dice, M.L. (1993). Intervention strategies for children with emotional or behavioral disorders. San Diego, CA: Singular. This methods textbook is primarily for prospective teachers of children who have emotional or behavioral disorders and describes interventions that beginning teachers need to understand to address the challenges of working with these students. Beginning chapters provide information on emotional and behavior disorders; the IEP and the major service delivery options available to students; how to design an assessment-based curriculum; and seven conceptual models that influence intervention. Subsequent chapters address: classroom management, interpersonal skills interventions, behavioral interventions, and cognitive-learning interventions. The book concludes with chapters on how to integrate interventions and on crisis management. (264 pages)