About Emotional Disabilities

What is Emotional Disturbance? It is common for the terms emotional disturbance, emotional disability, and behavioral disorder to be used interchangeably. In Virginia’s public school divisions the term emotional disturbance is used.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines emotionally disturbed as:

  1. The term means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree, which adversely affects educational performance:
    1. An inability to learn which cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors;
    2. An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers;
    3. Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances;
    4. A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or
    5. A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.
  2. The term includes children who are schizophrenic, but does not include children who are socially maladjusted unless it is determined that they are emotionally disturbed.

In considering students as emotionally disturbed the multidisciplinary team must answer if the behaviors have existed over a long period of time, not just on occasion or for a short period of time; and to a serious degree, that interferes with their learning. Identification of students with emotional disturbance may, like other disabilities span a range from mild to moderate or severe.

The term includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance. 34 CFR § 300.7 (c) (4)