Students with emotional disabilities may perform below grade level in an educational setting.
Classroom design can affect the students abilities to perform at grade level. Well designed group activities can help students with emotional disabilities interact with their classmates.
These students may have a shorter attention span, which may make it difficult for them to concentrate on schoolwork in general, but especially for prolonged periods of time. This makes it so that students with emotional disabilities often need to take breaks.
According to the Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders, “Children with the most serious emotional disturbances may exhibit distorted thinking, excessive anxiety, bizarre motor acts, and abnormal mood swings.” These factors may influence the student’s academic performance. For instance, the student may have a harder time focusing on the task at hand because their thoughts are elsewhere. Their emotions may also take hold of them, which could make it difficult for them to pay their full attention to the work in front of them. The same could be said for their motor movements.
Some students with emotional disabilities have a hard time going about their day without structure or routines. It is important for these students that they know how their day will look. This way, there are no surprises when it comes to the schedule and this could help reduce a student’s anxiety. This could help them better relax and focus on their work.
Some students with emotional disabilities may not approach a task if they feel that they may fail. Accordingly, “Therefore, it is important to ensure that students are not only challenged, but that they are capable of succeeding” (Quinn et al., 2000). Academically speaking, it is important to prepare our students for the tasks ahead by ensuring that they are fully prepared to tackle any tasks that they receive. For these students, it is especially important that we are challenging them enough, but to the point where they are afraid that they may fail. These students need the support, positive reinforcement, and praise to boost their confidence, which will ensure that they can succeed.
It is important to be very clear as a teacher in your delivery of information to these students. Make the lesson interesting and break it up into chunks. Students with emotional disabilities sometimes need to take breaks and not focus on one task for too long because some students with this disability have a hard time focusing. By having clear instruction and allowing your students to take breaks, you are allowing your students to gain the main points from the instruction and stay refreshed and ready to learn.
Through positive reinforcement, praise, and support, students with emotional disabilities can help regulate their emotions and recognize when they need to take a break before moving forward with their day.
Desautels (2017), highlights a strategy called “Brain-based Learning Centers.” With this, she has her students with emotional disabilities go to a designated brain break center, where they can recharge. There is the “amygdala first aid center,” the “hippocampus area,” and the “prefrontal cortex area.” Each area speaks to a different need of the student to prepare them to carry on with their day. The “amygdala first aid center” allows students to go to a quiet area where they can relax before returning to their work. The “hippocampus area” allows students an area to refocus and better concentrate on their work. The “prefrontal cortex area” gives students a space where they can collaborate with others and problem-solve with their classmates. These three centers allow students the chance to recognize what they need to do to enable them to regroup and channel their energy into succeeding that day.
Desautels (2017) also discusses another technique where students can recognize their emotions, write them down, and then move forward with their day. With this, she has her students write down their emotions, even the negative ones, which will enable them to clear their heads. For instance, “When we write out our thoughts and feelings, we clear space in the frontal lobes for positive emotion and higher cognitive processes. A locked journal can give students a safe place to release anxiety while maintaining control over their own privacy” (Desautels, 2017). This allows students to acknowledge their feelings and then take the initiative to take charge of them. This way, students can move forward with their day without having their anxieties and negative feelings weigh them down.