Teaching Students with Emotional Disturbances: 8 Tips for Teachers
There’s a lot to know (and un-know) about emotional disturbances, so we thought we’d start with a few, quick, grounding facts from a great article on the NICHY website.
Emotional disturbance is an umbrella term that’s used under IDEA to describe a wide range of different disorders and conditions. Anxiety disorders, conduct disorders, eating disorders, mood disorders, psychiatric disorders… all are considered emotional disturbances. Yet each varies from the other in important ways.
Emotional disturbances carry with them a stigma, despite being surprisingly common in both children and adults. (1) Most of us know someone who’s depressed, lives with chronic anxiety, experiences inexplicable panic attacks, or compulsively washes his or her hands or must do things in a particular order. Some of us are those people.
A wide range of help is available for children with mental health issues, both through the public schools and from private sources, through medication and through therapy. It’s crucial to connect children with that help and to confront the stigma and fear that are often associated with emotional and behavior difficulties.
Teachers are often among the first to suspect that a student may have an undiagnosed emotional disturbance. They may notice a student’s ongoing problems with interpersonal relationships, for example, or signs of unreasonable anger, an eating disorder, or self-injurious behavior. It’s also not uncommon for teachers to refer such students for evaluation, to see that they are connected with the systems of supports and services that can be genuinely helpful, even life-changing.
The nation’s special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), provides a definition of “emotional disturbance” that guides how schools identify (and help) students with emotional disorders. In 2011, more than 371,000 students (ages 6 to 21) received special education and related services in our public schools under the category of “emotional disturbance.”
Emotional disturbances can affect many different aspects central to student learning, including (but not limited to): concentration, stamina, handling time pressures and multiple tasks, interacting with others, responding to feedback, responding to change, and remaining calm under stress. Many of the medications prescribed to address the disturbance also have side effects that can impact student learning.