EDSP 6648: Defining EBD

The term emotional and behavioral disorder (EBD) is difficult to define because everyone has a different idea of what it means. Before this class, I did not realize that EBD existed. I would have simply referred to the disorder as anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, or some other diagnosed condition. Do all students that act out in school have a EBD? Probably not, but now I realize that EBD is more complex than that. How do you know when emotional and behavioral problems constitute a disorder?

Even lawmakers have trouble coming up with a good definition of EBD (Yell, Meadows, Drasgow, & Shriner, 2013). In order for a student to receive EBD special education services, they must meet the federal definition for EBD. However the federal definition is vague and ambiguous when it comes to what a “marked degree” is and how long “a long period of time” is. Every person is different and people with EBD are no exception.

I define EBD as someone that has either an emotional or behavioral problem that causes them to have inappropriate actions or thoughts that adversely affect their ability to learn, work, or form meaningful relationships with others. These actions or thoughts happen repeatedly and over the course of several months. This would not include people with depression who have just lost a family member or someone important to them for example, unless it continues for several months and it negatively affects their learning or work. But even that definition is still lacking. The federal definition says EBD does not include people who are “socially maladjusted,” such as people who participate in gang activities. However, I feel like these people need just as much help as someone who has an anxiety disorder.

In any case, I believe many of the conceptual models and risk factors can help us better define EBD. Yell et al. (2013) describe several models including the psychodynamic, psychoeducational, ecological, humanistic, biophysical, behavioral, and cognitive models. I know it can probably be difficult to pinpoint exactly what is causing the EBD, but I think many times it is multiple factors working together. For example, the ecological model states that the poor behavior could be a result of an adverse environment. Risk factors for such an environment could include family risk factors such as having parents in legal trouble, neglect or abuse, or even rejection by family (Yell et. al., 2013).

Behavior problems could be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain or genetics, which describes the biophysical model. And yet another belief is that behavior stems from social contexts and cause and effect treatment or punishment. All of these different models and risk factors influence my description of EBD. It will be my job as a future elementary teacher to watch out for children who have either been diagnosed with EBD or show signs of having a potential problem.

Reference: Yell, M. L., Meadows, N. B., Drasgow, E., & Shriner, J. G. (2013). Evidence-based practices for educating students with emotional and behavioral disorders (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.