What is EBD?

Although many youth normally are carefree , many adolescents experience emotional difficulties throughout stages of their young life. As a past K-12 teacher and now as someone who teaches students with emotional or behavioral issues in a Federal I Special Education Setting and closed-custody correctional setting occurrences of emotional outbursts are commonplace.

Yet, that does not diminish the difficulty of initially identifying an emotional or behavioral disorder (EBD) in youth. Below you’ll find the EBD definition under IDEA 34 CFR 300.8 (4) (i).

(i)A condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time & to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:

(A) An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors.

(B) An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers & teachers.

(C) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.

(D) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.

(E) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

(ii) Emotional disturbance includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance.

Source: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/34/300.8

Eligibility and Needs Associated with EBD

Students who meet the IDEA criteria for EBD may exhibit a wide variety of needs for consideration: 

  • Social skill, speech & language deficits 
  • Cognitive factors, such as slower processing speed 
  • Self-regulation & Thought &/or mood disorders 
  • Experience the least favorable outcomes of any group of individuals with disabilities. 

Examples of EBD

The following examples of emotional and behavioral disorders are from the DSM-IVR criteria. This list is not comprehensive, but is included to give examples of EBD affecting youth.

Adjustment Disorders describe emotional or behavioral symptoms that children may exhibit when they are unable, for a time, to appropriately adapt to stressful events or changes in their lives. The symptoms, which must occur within three months of a stressful event or change, and last no more than six months after the stressor ends, are:

Anxiety Disorders are a large family of disorders (school phobia, posttraumatic stress disorder, avoidant disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, panic attack, etc.) where the main feature is exaggerated anxiety.

Anxiety disorders may be expressed as physical symptoms, (headaches or stomach aches), as disorders in conduct (work refusal, etc.) or as inappropriate emotional responses, such as giggling or crying.

Anxiety occurs in all youth as a temporary reaction to stressful experiences at home or in school. When anxiety is intense and persistent, interfering with the child’s functioning, it may become deemed as an Anxiety Disorder.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which occurs at a rate of 2.5%, means a child has recurrent and persistent obsessions or compulsions that are time consuming or cause marked distress or significant impairment. Obsessions are persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are intrusive and inappropriate (repeated doubts, requirements to have things in a specific order, aggressive impulses, etc.).

Compulsions are repeated behaviors or mental acts (hand washing, checking, praying, counting, repeating words silently, etc.) that have the intent of reducing stress or anxiety.

Many youth with OCD may know that their behaviors are extreme or unnecessary, but are so driven to complete their routines that they are unable to stop.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop following exposure to an extremely traumatic event or series of events in a youth’s life, or witnessing or learning about a death or injury to someone close to the youth.

The symptoms must occur within one month after exposure to the stressful event. Responses in youth include intense fear, helplessness, difficulty falling asleep, nightmares, persistent re-experiencing of the event, numbing of general responsiveness, or increased arousal.

Young children with PTSD may repeat their experience in daily play activities, or may lose recently acquired skills, such as toilet training or expressive language skills.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a condition, affecting 3-5% of children, where the child shows symptoms of inattention that are not consistent with his or her developmental level.

The essential feature of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is “a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that is more frequent and severe than is typically observed in individuals at a comparable level of development.”

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). The central feature of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), which occurs at rates of 2 to 16%, is “a recurrent pattern of negativistic, defiant, disobedient and hostile behaviors towards authority figures, lasting for at least six months …”

The disruptive behaviors of a child or adolescent with ODD are of a less severe nature than those with Conduct Disorder, and typically do not include aggression toward people or animals, destruction of property, or a pattern of theft or deceit.

Typical behaviors include arguing with adults, defying or refusing to follow adult directions, deliberately annoying people, blaming others, or being spiteful or vindictive.

Conduct Disorder, which affects between 6% and 16% of boys and 2% to 9% of girls, has as the essential feature “a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate social norms or rules are violated.”

Youth with Conduct Disorder often have a pattern of staying out late despite parental objections, running away from home, or being truant from school.

Youth with Conduct Disorder may bully or threaten others or may be physically cruel to animal and people. Conduct Disorder is often associated with an early onset of sexual behavior, drinking, smoking, and reckless and risk-taking acts.

Bipolar Disorder (formally Manic Depressive Disorder) has symptoms that include an alternating pattern of emotional highs and emotional lows or depression.

Episodes of mood swings may occur rarely or multiple times a year. While most youth will experience some emotional symptoms between episodes, some may not experience any. Although bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, managing mood swings and other symptoms are possible by following a treatment plan.

Major Depressive Disorder occurs when a youth has a series of two or more major depressive episodes, with at least a two-month interval between them. Depression may be manifested in continuing irritability or inability to get along with others, and not just in the depressed affect.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, characterized by the presence of markedly abnormal or impaired development in social interaction and communication, and a markedly restricted level of activities or interests.

Youth with Autism may fail to develop relationships with peers of the same age, and may have no interest in establishing friendships. The impairment in communication (both verbal and nonverbal) is severe for some children with this disorder.

Schizophrenia is a serious emotional disorder characterized by loss of contact with environment and personality changes. Hallucinations and delusions, disorganized speech, or catatonic behavior often exist as symptoms of this disorder, which is frequently manifest in young adulthood. The symptoms may also occur in younger children. The lifetime prevalence of Schizophrenia is estimated at between 0.5% and 1%.

After-School Challenges

Youth with EBD often display characteristics that do not support success in or out of school.

  • They may not be able to maintain appropriate social relationships with others
  • They may have academic difficulties in multiple content areas
  • They may display chronic behavior problems, including noncompliance, aggression, & disrespect toward authority figures. 

Youth with EBD by the numbers in terms of overall school completion:

  • Graduated – 48.4%
  • Aged out – 1.3%
  • Dropped out/were expelled – 50.3%
  • School completion rates 14 times lower than their non-disabled peers


Published by

Mr Resilience

I am an Correctional Educator with an EBD and LD special education background. I always look forward to working with challenging and at-risk youth. I love a good underdog story. Follow Mr. Resilience on Twitter @ResilienceNavi1

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