Students with significant mental health needs may be identified in school as a special education student under the category “emotional disability.”

“Emotional Disability” – What does it mean?

The term Emotional Disturbance is federal language contained in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In the law, Emotional Disturbance is one of 14 disability categories specified. In 2010, the state of Maryland changed the term from “Emotional Disturbance” to “Emotional Disability.” Emotional Disability is defined as follows:

“(i) The term means a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:

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

(ii) The term includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disturbance.”

In addition, in order to be eligible for services under IDEA, the student, by reason of their disability, must require special education and related services.

Note that the definition of Emotional Disability is not a diagnosis or medical term, but rather a term used in the federal education law to designate eligibility for special education. Under IDEA, if a child is found eligible, the student is entitled to an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) that is designed to meet their unique needs.