Emotional Disturbance In Children

Children who are emotionally disturbed are eligible for special education and services, according to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA). This means that special accommodations will be made for the student by the school district, to help the child succeed in school.

What Constitutes an “Emotional Disturbance?”

Any one or more of the following factors:

1. The child has physical manifestations of anxiety or fear associated with school attendance: This may include but is not limited to things such as shortness of breath, feeling faint, heart palpitations, or trembling;

2. The child is consistently depressed and unhappy;

3. The child’s behaviors are not age appropriate, i.e. which might include but is not limited to thumb sucking, enuresis (wets pants), inappropriate attachments, etc.

4. The child has an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or medical factors;

5. The child is unable or severely limited in his ability to develop and maintain relationships with peers or teachers.

Just because your child is feeling depressed doesn’t mean he or she is emotionally disturbed. All children can experience anxiety, depression, and unhappiness from time to time. A child with a true emotional disturbance will respond repeatedly in exaggerated, inappropriate emotional ways. He or she might be hostile and combative, causing complaints from other children, or the child might socially withdraw and sit alone most of the day. He or she might cry excessively or daydream and be unresponsive. Typically these children have a history of behavioral problems which have been addressed numerous times between teachers and parents before it becomes clear the issue needs more serious intervention.

In order for your child to qualify for special education under this umbrella, the emotional disturbance must be significantly interfering with the child’s schooling.

What to do?

Request a psychological assessment through the school. A school psychologist will begin working with your child, and will conduct a number of assessments to determine what may be amiss, and how your child can best be helped. I will write more about psychological assessments in a future blog.