Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, an introduction

This is both my area of interest and expertise, so you can expect several blogs in the future focusing on aspects of this disability targeting an audience with varying knowledge levels. This particular blog is to be considered an introduction and focuses on characteristics, risk factors, and cultural/economic factors with more in depth topics to come. 

Although the legal educational term is Emotional Disturbance (ED), these students are often referred to as having Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD) due to the substantial impact their behaviors have on their education as well as the link between behaviors and disorders described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual - fifth edition (DSM-5). These terms will be considered interchangeable in my posts. Although we do not diagnose from the DSM-5 in the educational world, it is necessary knowledge for educators considering students who are identified as ED often obtain clinical diagnoses, including: Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, Major Depressive Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, and Adjustment Disorder. 

Why jump right into EBD? Through direct observation and research, I have found that students with EBD are among the most difficult for teachers to serve. These students simply have needs that not only go beyond the traditional training of an educator, they often quickly exhaust resources readily available on a public school campus, and they are frequently placed in self-contained classrooms that can become warehouses for their behavior rather than remediation and reentry in to general education. Simply put, serving students with EBD in the most appropriate way possible calls for a more proactive than reactive model, which I will present in later posts;)

Students with EBD display a wide range of characteristics with a disproportionate representation of African American students and males. Overall, they are identified later than students with other disabilities and are placed in settings with more restrictions. Studies suggest that students with EBD display worse social, behavioral, and academic outcomes than any other disability category (Yell, M., Meadows, N., Drasgow, E., & Shriner, J., 2009). Students with EBD have among the lowest graduation rates and college attendance (Kaufman, 2001). 

Tips: Common Characteristics of EBD
·      Cognitive abilities in the average to above average range
·      Performance in school much lower than ability suggests
·      Comorbid conditions such as ADHD, Learning Disabilities, and Language Deficits
·      Higher rates of grade retention
·      Higher rates of school dropout
·      Often rejected by peers and adults
·      Common problem behaviors- without effective intervention, these often increase
·                  Assaultive (hitting, kicking, biting)
·                  Self-injurious (scratching, cutting, hitting)
·                  Property damage (breaking/throwing objects)
·                  Defiance (non-compliance, work refusal, verbal protests)
·                  Eloping (leaving designated area without permission, running from staff or off campus)

Risk Factors
            Research has not been able to show a direct cause of EBD, but there are clear relationships found between students who become identified and environmental factors that educators should become aware of. Risk factors can change based on the varying stages of development and the chances of EBD increase with an abundance of risk factors present. In order to predict and prevent behavior problems, we must first understand the risk factors associated with them.

Tips: Risk Factors for EBD
·      Internal: concentration problem, hyperactivity, restlessness, risk taking, poor social skills/no or limited peer groups, early involvement in antisocial behavior, and poor problem solving skills
·      Family: parental criminality, harsh/ineffective parenting, lack of parental involvement, family conflict, child abuse/neglect, rejection by parents, and poverty
·      School: absence of clear rules and policies regarding behavior and low rates of praise
·      Community: high crime neighborhoods, high turnover of residents, few adults to supervise and monitor behavior 

Cultural and Ecological Factors
            A student’s environment and culture should always be considered when looking at problem behavior as a possible disability in the area of Emotional Disturbance. The student could have endured a traumatic event or have reoccurring stressors in their environment, such as violence in the home. In this case, the behaviors observed in the school setting may be protective in nature, which is not a disability. There are cultural groups that are over represented under the ED category, most often African Americans. Educators must take a special consideration to students of differing cultures than their own when looking at problem behavior. It is important to remember that what is inappropriate in one culture, may actually be normal in another. For example, close proximity when speaking to someone, level of eye contact, loud speaking, and tone when speaking.

Tips: Cautions when considering cultural influences on behavior patterns
·      Some behaviors are demonstrated more so in some cultures than in others, but all behaviors are found in all cultural groups
·      Individuals within a particular culture display the traditional traits and cultural markers of that group to varying degrees… from “not at all” to “exclusively and intensely”.  These variations can be due to ethnic group differences with the larger culture, socio-economic status, degree of acculturation to the mainstream society, gender, religion, and myriad other factors.
·      If a student displays a behavior that is common and accepted within his/her cultural group, it should be viewed as “a difference” from the ways of the mainstream society that are promoted in the schools; NOT as a “deficiency” or “disorder”.


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