Emotional/Behavior Disorder


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition does not categorically define emotional/behavioral disorder, but does define associated conditions (such as anxiety disorder, depression and bipolar disorders). The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act's definition (see Emotional Disturbance, IDEA) focuses on five domains and does not require a clinical diagnosis. The phrases "long period of time" and "to a marked degree" are subjective but frequently defined as occurring for at least six months and across multiple settings (such as school, home and community).


The 2011 Individuals With Disabilities Education Act federal child count reported 373,152 children ages 3 through 21 identified with emotional/behavioral disorder, a decrease of 22 percent since 2005. Some researchers believe this is statistically low and that emotional/behavioral disorder is under-identified. Males are more frequently referred and identified than females. Children from under-represented populations and families with low socioeconomic status are more likely to be identified than their white peers.


Students with emotional/behavioral disorder experience few positive educational outcomes. While their reading and math skills are frequently closer to grade level than peers with other disabilities, they frequently earn lower grades (14 percent earned mostly Ds and Fs compared to 8 percent for other disabilities). A significant number experience learning disabilities resulting in a cycle of both academic and emotional deficits contributing to overall school failure. Students with emotional/behavioral disorder demonstrate a high dropout rate (55 percent) and few (20 percent) pursued post-secondary education. Only 30 percent were employed within three years of leaving school, much lower than the rate for students with learning disabilities. Students with emotional/behavioral disorder are more likely to become involved with the legal system.

Educational services

Both individual and school-wide interventions, such as positive behavior support, are often used to assist students with behavioral concerns. Assistive technology tools ranging from low to high tech (checksheets to video game consoles) are often used as instructional tools or rewards/reinforcers.