Emotional and Behavioral Disorders – Psychology

Table of Contents

Historical perspective

Since time immemorial, it has been relatively difficult to get the appropriate definition of emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). Various researchers involved with the subject under review have declared some of the definitions of this type of disability as critically flawed.

The federal definition of EBD is part of those that have been considered as critically flawed. It is evident that it is almost impossible to distinguish the term “behavioral disorder” from ‘emotional disorder.” Scholars such as Steven Forness along with Jane Knitzer spelled out the problems within the EBD definition as stipulated within the federal law about special education which was initially enacted in 1975 (Forness & Knitzer, 1992).

Forness along with Knitzer thereby formulated the alternative EBD definition, which was absorbed by the Special Education Coalition, as well as, National Mental Health. Even though numerous definitions have since then been developed, Daniel Hallahan, Paige Pullen along with James Kauffman came to the conclusion that almost all of the definitions entail of certain similar elements (Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen, 2009). These elements are such as:

  • Extreme behavior (which is simply relatively diverse from the usual)
  • A chronic problem (which is constantly an on-going process, which does not disappear quickly)
  • Social, as well as, cultural expectations violation

Nevertheless, the definition which is presently featured within the IDEA, that is, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is that “EBD refers to the condition whereby an individual exhibits one of the characteristics outlined below for quite some time and to a certain extent that it affects the individual’s educational performance” (Gargiulo, 2012). The characteristics are such as:

  • A learning inability, which cannot be attributed to intellectual, health, or even sensory factors
  • The inability to establish or sustain peers or teachers’ interpersonal relationships satisfactorily
  • Inappropriate behavior types concerning the normal circumstances
  • An overall unhappiness or basic depression pervasive mood
  • The likelihood to develop fears along with physical symptoms related to individual or school factors

Behavioral disorders, which are also termed as conduct disorders, form part of the mostly experienced psychopathology forms, especially within children along with young adults.

It is one of the reasons making the group above of individuals is referred to diverse mental health services. “The emergence of behavioral disorders is seen to increase at a tremendous rate” (Forness & Knitzer, 1992). Consequently, their emergence has become one of the barriers of educating students effectively within the school systems. In addition to this, the juveniles have been depicted to have more behavioral problems.

Majority of the teachers comprehend that numerous students demonstrate minor behavior problems while several other students display serious problems, which nonetheless cannot be viewed as disabilities. Nevertheless, a greater percentage of the teachers also properly comprehend those chronic, persistent behavioral expectations violations, which are right for the social in addition to the cultural context of the student are deliberating (Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen, 2009).

“The principal controversy concerning the IDEA definition is that it excludes the socially maladjusted students who are not emotionally disturbed” (Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen, 2009). In some occasions, the identification of the EBD victims is resisted due to the failure of the family along with the community to enlighten the affected individual on the right behavior. In such cases, the problem is thus, not considered as an emotional disturbance but rather social maladjustment.

Nevertheless, the exceptions on causes that have been presumed or confirmed are not easy to defend based on morality. For instance, it cannot be concluded that certain students cannot be considered as blind because of their blindness causes, for example, genetic process, disease, or even accident.

Blindness is described as the failure to see, without putting into consideration the causing factor. It is in that perspective that EBD should be simply described as chronic, persistent problem behavior irrespective of the causing factor (Kauffman & Landrum, 2006).

Relevant issues

Generally, students exhibiting EBD are considered to possess IQ levels, which are below average. Also, their academic achievements are lower when compared to other students. Nonetheless, a smaller percentage of students that exhibits EBD have high IQ. As such, they make high achievements in academics.

Students exhibiting EBD are mostly classified under two principal subcategories (Gargiulo, 2012). There are those classified as experiencing externalizing behavior, and others considered to have internalizing behavior. Externalizing behavior comprises of aspects such as disruption, aggression along with other ‘acting out’ forms.

On the other side, internalizing behavior encompasses problems such as anxiety, depression, as well as social withdrawal, within which the basic problem is relatively personal or internal. Nevertheless, the internalizing problems can turn out as debilitating (Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen, 2009). Besides, on some occasions, the students can exhibit both problems, either in a concurrent or alternating pattern.

On top of the twin broad EBD subcategories, there are other various disorder types exhibited by EBD victims. “Kauffman along with Landrum identified various difficulty disorders which include: attention along with activity disorders, conduct disorders, adolescence special problems (such as substance abuse, delinquency, and others), schizophrenia, anxiety, as well as, depression” (Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen, 2009).

Majority of these disorders occur at the same moment (Kauffman & Landrum, 2006). The situation within which a specific person exhibits the emergence of the disorders simultaneously is termed as comorbid. Surprisingly, it has been established that the comorbid disorders, which can also be referred to as multiple disorders, are the ones, which are more commonly experienced than the single difficulties.

Majority of students with EBD should not be considered as psychotic. Psychotic is quite different from EBD because it refers to the inability to differentiate reality from unreality. Nevertheless, several EBD victims have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, which is a chief thought disorder, which mostly involves hallucinations, as well as delusions (Bambara, Fogt & Kern, 2002). For such individuals, the antipsychotic medication should be prescribed, in addition to subjecting them to the appropriate education.

Implications for instruction/student learning

There are diverse settings within which individuals experiencing behavior disorders can easily be identified by observing their characteristics without paying much attention to the social along with cultural rules. The established academic characteristics students with EBD include:

  • They bring about disruptions within the classroom.
  • They are usually inattentive, as well as distractible.
  • They are also considered as impulsive.
  • Constantly skipping schooldays
  • Preoccupied
  • Usually, exhibit poor concentration
  • Demonstrate change resistance in addition to routines transitions (Gargiulo, 2012)
  • Possess low self-esteem
  • Display personal injurious behavior
  • Mostly manipulative of any situation which involves them
  • Usually experience difficulties in working within groups
  • Are specifically the other students’ bullies and adore intimidating the other students
  • Does not adhere to or even care about any classroom rules.
  • They are usually unable to make use of social rules while getting to other individuals’ personal space or even belongings.
  • Mostly speaks out irrelevant information without caring out the consequences.

If a student exhibits one of the characteristics outlined above, they should be assumed to be affected by EBD (Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen, 2009). It is, therefore, necessary to refer such a student to a professional psychologist who is in the better position of providing the right diagnosis to the victim based on behavior documentation, checklists along with observations.


It is essential to formulate teaching strategies, which are based on altering the affected student’s behavior. The system is mostly focused on discouraging the unbecoming behavior along with advocating for the desired behavior through the giving out of rewards.

Moreover, a behavior modification plan has turned out as the most effective tool, which can be used in assisting the student in comprehending the main behavior expectations, as well as track their progress (Gargiulo, 2012). Besides, the observed behavior baseline should be created. Also, a close examination of the information featured within the baseline should be accompanied by the evaluation of the observations made along with what is already documented.

Moreover, there should be a well-formulated plan specifying the long, as well as the short-term goals of the affected student. These plans are the ones, which should specify the appropriate reward system to be applied for a certain student (Bambara, Fogt & Kern, 2002). The plan’s effectiveness should be examined from time to time to properly monitor the behavior change pattern. If the desired outcome is taking longer than expected to be realized, it is essential to make various modifications within the plan to obtain better results.

Reference List

Bambara, L, Fogt, J., & Kern, L. (2002). Class-wide curricular modifications to improve the behavior of students with emotional or behavior disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 27(4), 317-326.

Forness, R., & Knitzer, J. (1992). A new proposed definition and terminology to replace “serious emotional disturbance” in individuals with disabilities act. School Psychology Review, 21(1), 12–20.

Gargiulo, R. M. (2012). Special Education in Contemporary Society: An Introduction to Exceptionality. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.

Hallahan, D., Kauffman, M., & Pullen, P. (2009). Exceptional learners: Introduction to special education. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Kauffman, M., & Landrum, J. (2006). Children and youth with emotional and behavioral disorders: A history of their education. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

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