The design and intention of this informational blog is to facilitate the learning and growth of parents, students, and professionals in helping the ED population become more happy, capable, and successful. Links to other websites appear in bold letters throughout this site which have been provided to offer further information for that specific area.

Here in you will find the following:

1) Terminology, definitions and classifications of ED

2) Characteristics of someone challenged with ED

3) How ED may effect you child's education as well as our current classroom supports

4) Assistive Technology definitions and components for all students

What are Emotional Disturbances?

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--

(A) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.

(B) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.

(C) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.

(D) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.

(E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems." [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)]

What are the characteristics of someone with emotional disturbances?

The causes of emotional disturbance have not been adequately determined. Although various factors such as heredity, brain disorder, diet, stress, and family functioning have been suggested as possible causes, research has not shown any of these factors to be the direct cause of behavior or emotional problems. Some of the characteristics and behaviors seen in children who have emotional disturbances include:

Hyperactivity (short attention span, impulsiveness, inability to sit still or focus for extended periods)

Aggression/self-injurious behavior (acting out, fighting, cutting, banging head, self stimulating behaviors)

Withdrawal (failure to initiate interaction with others; retreat from exchanges of social interaction, excessive fear or anxiety)

Immaturity (inappropriate crying, temper tantrums, poor coping skills, inability to make or maintain age appropriate relationships)

Learning disabilities/difficulties (academically performing below grade level, often leading to generalized frustration across multiple subjects and sometimes necessitating assistive technology).

Children with the most serious emotional disturbances may exhibit distorted thinking, excessive anxiety, bizarre motor acts, and abnormal mood swings. Some are identified as children who have a severe psychosis or schizophrenia.

Many children who do not have emotional disturbances may display some of these same behaviors at various times during their development. However, when children have an emotional disturbance, these behaviors continue over long periods of time. Their behavior thus signals that they are not coping with their environment or peers.

How emotional disturbances may effect education and the how we intervene

The educational programs for children with an emotional disturbance need to include attention to providing emotional and behavioral support as well as helping them to master academics, develop social skills, and increase self-awareness, self-control, and self-esteem. A large body of research exists regarding methods of providing students with positive behavioral support (PBS) in the school environment, so that problem behaviors are minimized and positive, appropriate behaviors are fostered. (See the resource list at the end of this publication for more information on PBS.) It is also important to know that, within the school setting:
• For a child whose behavior impedes learning (including the learning of others), the team developing the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) needs to consider, if appropriate, strategies to address that behavior, including positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports.
• Students eligible for special education services under the category of emotional disturbance may have IEPs that include psychological or counseling services. These are important related services which are available under law and are to be provided by a qualified social worker, psychologist, guidance counselor, or other qualified personnel.
• Career education (both vocational and academic) is also a major part of secondary education and should be a part of the transition plan included in every adolescent’s IEP.
There is growing recognition that families, as well as their children, need support, respite care, intensive case management, and a collaborative, multi-agency approach to services. Many communities are working toward providing these wrap-around services. There are a growing number of agencies and organizations actively involved in establishing support services in the community.
Small group environments are commonly viewed as most beneficial and part of the least restrictive environment for the ED population. In our current setting there is a 3:1 staff to student ratio with a total of 12 students currently enrolled. Grade levels span from 3-6 and academic levels range from grades 1-6.

Students with emotional disturbances find the most success with a well structured, organized, and supportive environment where expectations, rules, and schedule are clearly defined. Below is an example of a behavior modification color/point system which we currently use with associated points accumulated on a D.B.R. or Daily Behavior Report. Student behavior is recorded on an hourly basis in four different areas, one being a classroom specific goal for the week. The allotted points are then accumulated and used in what is called a token economy system, or more commonly a 'classroom store.' Once a week students are able to bid and/or purchase items of their choice including small toys, computer time, video game time, classroom coupons, homework, and recess passes. At the end of the day or week, points and behavior are reviewed and discussed leading to each student moving up and down throughout the levels. As behavior improves or digresses privileges are given or taken away.

Although we do not use it in the classroom this year, some of our students are offered the opportunity to participate in animal therapy. Such therapy can include working, playing and interacting with animals ranging from domesticated pets such as rats, snakes, gerbils, etc. to bigger animals which are part of much more structured programs including equine therapy. Interacting with animals offers students the opportunity to express themselves and open up in ways that they might not necessarily open up otherwise. Support staff and mental health workers are then afforded windows of time to observe valuable behaviors including projections and emotional expression, internalized experiences, and other representations which can be used to further the progression of that particular student.

Developing and maintaining appropriate relationships is a challenge for most students with ED. This ranges from peers, to strangers, to adult support providers. As a way of developing those skills, a great program called Second Step can be used on a weekly basis. Second Step is a social skills and behavior management program that presents students with various social scenarios, discusses the options the children have in those scenarios and then teaches them specific step by step processes they can work through to make appropriate, safe and socially acceptable decisions. Role playing and classroom discussion are key components as a staff member facilitates the conversations.

Assistive Technology

IDEA defines an assistive-technology device as "any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities." Such devices can range from the simple, such as penholders or cup holders, to complex, such as computer voice communication or robots. Such tools can offer greater independence, freedom and opportunities for the disabled in the pursuits of their hopes, goals, and dreams.Some of the current preferences towards assistive technology we use in the classroom are:

  • Personal Digital Assistants There are multiple varieties of these. We use two different types in the classroom to help students better comprehend orginization and scheduling.
  • Highlighters/Low Tech Such low tech tools are easy to use and often make a world of difference for students, often leading to a new found excitement to use 'technology' while learning.
  • Tape recorders and Audio Books Students record their own vocal reading as well as listen to pre-recorded stories to help improve their reading and listening skills
  • Handwriting Without Tears is an all inclusive program that offers students with fine gross motor challenges materials such as lined paper and comfortable pencil grips to help improve handwriting.
  • Talking Calculators and Classroom Play Money Both of these are very low tech options which help students in multiple areas as well as offering real world applications.

Assistive technology should be addressed in every IEP and with every student. Whether low tech or high tech, students who struggle academically and emotionally can be benefitted in various ways with such materials. Being well into the technology era and having advanced so far in special education, nearly every need can be touched on and benefitted through assistive technology.

Universal Design takes assistive technology pieces which are available for students, in whatever modality, and creates a plan to assess, deliver, and monitor the use of such materials.

According to AECT, Instructional Technology is the practice of design, development, utilization, management, and evaluation of processes and resources for learning.