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This year I was given the opportunity to work with students who have Emotional/Behavioral Disorders ( EBD ).  Working with these students has been a learning experience.  While they can some of my most enjoyable kids, they pose new challenges because of their difficulty regulating their emotions.

frustrated child working with students who have emotional and behavioral disabilities the speech bubble slp

Before I get into working with these students let me give you some background about what can qualify a student to be EBD.  The Illinois State Board of Education   website states that for students obtain a EBD label they must demonstrate one or more of the following characteristics over a marked period of time and that has an adverse affect on their academic performance:

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

An article from the ASHA LEADER, 2011, by Jennifer Armtstrong provides some helpful and interesting information. ‘Students with EBD can have a co-occurrence with disorders such as: ADHD, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and language disorders. Of students with language disorders, 50%-80% may have a EBD  co-occurrence.  Also, of students who have already been identified with EBD, 88% have yet to be assessed for language difficulties. These difficulties can be with both receptive and expressive language, but the primary area of deficit is with pragmatics.’ ( For the complete article click here )

Now onto therapy.  For the most part it is not much different from working with students who do not have emotional/behavioral disorders. I use the same materials and activities. The change comes with how to work with these students when they are having a ‘hard day’.  Some things to set up in your room before you begin working with these students are:

– Having clear, direct expecatations posted in yout room: Participating, being respectful ( try and list examples if you can,etc. )
– Not having to many rules/expectations ( 3-5 is a good number )
– Collaborate: Talk with your social worker and/or EBD teacher about what the student does or does not respond to
– Be consistent
– Keep cool, do not yell

Another thing to keep in mind is your room’s reinforcement system. While it may work for the rest of your students, children with EBD may not always respond appropriatly to it. Here is an example:

I have a varied reinforcement system in my room ( I use SpeechyLand, it is free at my TpT store). If my students follow directions, work hard, and participate, they may roll dice for a chance to pick a prize. Well one of my friends who from the ED/BD room gets very excited when they get to roll, but them extremrly upset if they do not get a prize. This student will cry, scream, knock over chairs, bargin, etc. So for this student, my system was not effective. I talked with our social worker and his ED teacher and we decided to use the reinforcement from his his ED room ( they earn play money ). This was my lesson in why consistency is important!

CONSISTENCY IS IMPORTANT! As you read, I learned the hard way. If the student has a system that works for them to control and modify their behavior, stick with it. It follows the saying, ‘ If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’. Something else that you should keep in mind, is to make sure if you say you are going to do something that you follow through. If the student is refusing to participate, and you tell them that if they do not particiapte on their next turn they won’t get to ________, you must follow through. Again, this creates consistency in your room and also demonstrates that you mean what you say.

I am not going to lie, there are times when I do get very frustrated.  When some of my student continually demonstrate the same bahavior that they know is not appropirate in my room ( or the school for that matter ) and are making a choice not to listen or be respectful despite warnings, it can get to me.  These are the times where I remind myself that some of these behaviors are out of their control. While it can be hard to believe, these students get so overwhelmed by their emotions that it can derail their entire logical thought process; add on existing pragmatic difficulties and it can be a rough day. This is when I take a deep breathe. Here is an important piece of advice, DO NOT YELL. You don’t want to add fuel to the fire. Take a deep breathe, speak in a level tone. Explain exactly what the student is doing that you do no like and what you expect them to do.  If they do not change their behavior you can access your social worker and/or ED teacher for support. I don’t want you to think this happens everyday, events when I need to access support are rare. For the most part our speech sessions go smoothly, with only a few hiccups here and there, that are easily managed.


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Meet Maureen

Hey there! I’m Maureen Wilson, a school-base SLP who is data driven and caffeine powered. My passion is supporting other pediatric SLPs by teaching them how to harness the power of literacy and data to help their students achieve their goals…without sacrificing time they don’t have.

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One Response

  1. I work with a LOT of ED kids. The first step for me is to figure out, with the help of the team, what is driving the behavior ( power, attention, control, safety, etc.). Until you have a sense of that, it’s hard to know how to respond. The most important thing is that you have to find a way to connect to them. You have to find a way to love them and build trust and a relationship. Otherwise, there is no starting point.

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