Emotional Disturbance a starting point for Teachers


Students with Emotional Disturbance in the regular education classroom can be a challenge to support. I have collected some good articles and tools in this post as a way to adopt the right mindset to prepare to differentiate to this special population. My best advice in finding the most success is to stay curious and build relationships with; the student, the parents, the special education team.


Start here and read this article from National Dissemination for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) …print and revisit: Teaching Students with Emotional Disturbances: 8 Tips for Teachers 

Then if you like lists to remind and/ or inform your practice this is a helpful link from DoLearn: ED Strategies

Reasons why Emotional Disturbance occurs:


ASCD has some good insights from this article and below is a good chart to consider for your students showing behaviors in your classroom.

What Emotional Disturbance looks like-

Some emotional problems you can see—others you cannot. If a student has internalized her emotional problems, for example, she may become withdrawn or depressed, and the teacher may not be aware of the student’s distress. If a student has externalized emotional problems, however, the teacher is likely to know. This student puts emotions on display and may become disruptive, even antagonistic, in class. It’s important, therefore, that teachers know the early warning signs for both kinds of emotional problems.

A student may have internalized emotional problems if he

  • Appears isolated from peers.
  • Seems overly dependent on others.
  • Is moody.
  • Exhibits feelings of helplessness.
  • Shows an interest in cults.
  • Has an inordinate attraction to fantasy.
  • Is apathetic.
  • Is a bully victim.
  • Is frequently absent because of illness.
  • Cries inappropriately and too often.
  • Abuses himself.
A student may have externalized emotional problems if she

  • Becomes a chronic discipline problem.
  • Exhibits a lack of empathy or compassion.
  • Has temper tantrums.
  • Is truant often.
  • Experiences poor academic performance.
  • Has conflicts with authority figures.
  • Bullies others.
  • Damages the property of others.
  • Becomes noncompliant.
  • Becomes impulsive.
  • Becomes aggressive.

Source: Compiled from Gresham, F. M., MacMillan, D. L., & Bocian, K. (1996). “Behavioral earthquakes”: Low-frequency salient behavioral events that differentiate students at risk of behavior disorders. Behavioral Disorders 21(4), 277–292.

Behavior Intervention Plans can help to proactively address the issues that are happening in your classroom. Engage with your School Psychologist in fully understanding the plan and don’t hesitate to ask for clarity and/ or strategies that may be challenging to implement in your particular classroom.