The causes of emotional disturbance have not been adequately determined.
Although various factors such as heredity, brain disorder, diet, stress,
and family functioning have been suggested as possible causes, research
has not shown any of these factors to be the direct cause of behavior or
emotional problems. Some of the characteristics and behaviors seen in
children who have emotional disturbances include:
• Hyperactivity (short attention span, impulsiveness);
• Aggression/self-injurious behavior (acting out, fighting);
• Withdrawal (failure to initiate interaction with others; retreat from
exchanges of social interaction, excessive fear or anxiety);
• Immaturity (inappropriate crying, temper tantrums, poor coping
• Learning difficulties (academically performing below grade level).
Children with the most serious emotional disturbances may exhibit
distorted thinking, excessive anxiety, bizarre motor acts, and abnormal
mood swings. Some are identified as children who have a severe psychosis
Many children who do not have emotional disturbances may display some of
these same behaviors at various times during their development. However,
when children have an emotional disturbance, these behaviors continue
over long periods of time. Their behavior thus signals that they are not
coping with their environment or peers.