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Emotional Disturbance

Emotional Disturbance (ED)

By Definition

Any mental disorder not caused by detectable organic abnormalities of the brain and in which a major disturbance of emotions is predominant.



The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) has identified the following characteristics and behaviors as typical of children with emotional disturbances:

  • Inappropriate types of behavior under normal circumstances, such as aggression or self-injurious behavior
  • Hyperactivity (short attention span, impulsiveness)
  • Withdrawal or a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression (failure to initiate interaction with others, retreat from exchanges or social interaction, excessive fear or anxiety)
  • Development of physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems
  • Immaturity (inappropriate crying, temper tantrums, poor coping skills)
  • An inability to build and maintain relationships with peers and teachers
  • Learning difficulties that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors (academically performing below grade level)


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