Emotionally Disturbed 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)]
The causes of emotional disturbance have not been satisfactorily determined. Several different
factors, mental health diagnosis, stress, and family functioning follow a line of investigation.
These factors are not conclusive. Some of the characteristics and behaviors seen in
students who have emotional disturbances include:
• Hyperactivity (short attention span, impulsiveness)
• Aggression/self-injurious behavior (acting out, fighting)
• 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)
• Learning difficulties (academically performing below grade level)
Students with the most serious emotional disturbances may demonstrate distorted thinking, excessive anxiety, bizarre motor acts, and abnormal mood swings. Many students who do not have emotional disturbances may display some of these same behaviors at different times during their growth. However, when students have an emotional disturbance, these behaviors continue over long periods of time. Their behaviors indicate to schools that they are not coping with their environment or peers.