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Emotional Disturbances

Q – My child has severe mood swings, which has been escalating. He has frequent temper tantrums, displays of aggression and depression. Does this mean he has an emotional disturbance and may have a learning disability?

A – This is a common concern amongst many parents, especially parents of teenagers. In most cases, you can link his/her mood swings to biology – puberty – and teens just being teens. However, when children have emotional issues and if these behaviors continue for long periods of time to the point of affecting his/her learning, s/he may be eligible to receive special education services.


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines emotional disturbance as a condition exhibiting certain characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child's educational performance. This means that a child with an emotional disturbance may be eligible for special education and related services.

There are several diagnoses that may be associated with emotional disturbance classifications, including schizophrenia, psychosomatic symptoms, selective mutism, autism, ADHD and specific learning disability, to name a few.

Generally, educational programs for children with an emotional disturbance need to include attention to providing emotional and behavioral support as well as helping them to master academics, develop social skills, and increase self-awareness, self-control and self-esteem.

As a special education attorney, I can assist parents by requesting the student be assessed, particularly in the area of behavior, review the assessment report and work together with the IEP team to implement a behavior support plan.

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