Characteristics of a Behavioral Disability
Parents of children diagnosed with a behavioral disorder may find the terminology confusing. A disorder is a psychological term used to describe a condition. Disability is a legal term that defines the extent to which the disorder impairs the child from functioning in an academic setting. Not all children who have a behavior disorder are disabled.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act uses the term emotional disturbance to describe students with emotional or behavioral disorders. A student must exhibit certain criteria to be legally eligible for special educational services available for children with disabilities. Federal regulation defines an emotional disturbance as an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors; an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers; inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances; a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.
Conduct disorders are characterized by aggression, bullying, physical fighting, physical cruelty to people and animals, using weapons to inflict injury, theft, sexual aggression, arson, destruction of property and lying. Children with conduct disorders are not eligible for disability services in some states. Some individuals interpret conduct disorder as synonymous with social maladjustment; others view them as separate, distinctive issues. Conditions such as schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder can initially appear to be a conduct disorder. Professionals must thoroughly observe children to ensure that the conduct disorder is the actual disorder and not a symptom of another condition.
Characteristics of a socially maladjusted child or adolescent include resistance to teacher requests and rejection of help, a negative attitude towards school, use of school as a social outlet and rebellion against rules and structure. Other signs include intentionally skipping school, maintaining friendships with other socially maladjusted children, use of social skills to charm and influence others, being manipulative and deceptive, being conceited with an exaggerated sense of self-worth, blaming others for problems and showing little remorse, intentionally hurting others, appearing relaxed to others but reacting with extreme rage if provoked and taking risks. Social maladjustment is an externalizing behavior disorder. Social maladjustment with emotional disturbance is a disability.
Emotional disturbance is an internalizing behavior disorder. Some children with emotional disturbance may also be socially maladjusted. A child who suffers from an emotional disturbance may exhibit an inability to comply with teacher requests and difficulty asking for help, social angst and anxiety caused by school and excessive absenteeism due to emotional issues. She may struggle to make friends and maintain friendships. Children with emotion disturbances may be ignored or rejected, perceived as different or odd or ridiculed by peers. They are often ineffective in social settings due to underdeveloped social skills, have poor sense of self-worth, are needy and dependent, hurt themselves and others, show remorse, are very self critical and avoid taking risks and making decisions.