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What Does It Mean To Be Classified As Emotionally Disturbed At School?

Published: September 06, 2013
Dear TeenHealthFX,


I was just wondering what "emotionally disturbed" means. I got evaluated by the school psychologist and I apparently have an emotional disturbance. Nobody explained anything to me and I'm really confused about it. They just put me into special classes at school for kids with emotional disturbances. So I was just wondering if you could give me some information on what kind of things would be classified as an emotional disturbance.

Signed: What Does It Mean To Be Classified As Emotionally Disturbed At School?

Dear What Does It Mean To Be Classified As Emotionally Disturbed At School?,


When a school classifies a student as emotionally disturbed (ED), it technically means that a condition has been exhibited with one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time to such a degree that educational performance has been negatively impacted. This can include:


  • An inability to learn which cannot be explained by health, sensory, or intellectual factors.
  • An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers
  • Inappropriate types of behavior or feeling under normal circumstances
  • A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression
  • A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal and school problems.


Basically what all that means is that there are emotional or behavioral issues that are interfering with a student’s ability to achieve in school. For example, if a student is depressed, the low energy and low motivation that often accompanies depression may get in the way of the student being able to stay alert in class and take in the material being presented, complete in-class and homework assignments, and focus on tests. As a result grades may be negatively impacted.


The purpose of the classification is not meant as a label that something is wrong with the student or the student is less-than in any way. It is a way of ensuring that the student gets the appropriate supports and accommodations that will allow them to excel in school regardless of the emotional issues that are present, and that will help them to deal more effectively or resolve the emotional issues that are there.


If you are unsure why you have been classified as ED, FX thinks that it is very important for you to speak to your parents, school counselor, and/or teachers about it. Ask one or a few of them to explain to you why you have been given that classification, and what kind of in-school services you will be given because of this classification.


Sometimes students who are classified with an emotional disturbance or with a learning disorder can feel that this says something about their self-worth or intelligence level. FX wants to stress to you that it does NOT – and that you are a capable, wonderful, smart person. You may have added challenge to deal with in terms of whatever emotional issues are there – but that does not mean you are not able to use the supports and resources around you and that have been implemented through this classification to excel and achieve.



Signed: TeenHealthFX