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)
• 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.