Emotionally Disturbance

Just at the time IDEA was being reauthorized in 2004, the Bazelon Center advocated for the proper identification of emotionally disturbed children. Here are excerpts from the Bazelon brief:

“From the first days of the federal special education law now known as the IDEA, the definition of children who have “emotional disturbance” has been criticized as not grounded on the science of mental health assessment. IDEA identification of children with these disorders remains low—far below even the most conservative estimates of the prevalence of severe childhood mental disorders accompanied by extreme functional limitations. Further, new research shows that schools misidentify a significant number of these children and place them in other IDEA categories. Moreover, unlike children with other disabilities, these children’s disorders are commonly not identified until adolescence, even though recent research suggests that young children’s emotional and behavioral problems are identifiable early and amenable to reduction over time.”


“Decades of underidentification, misidentification and delayed identification for special education have been self-defeating. The issues these children bring to school will not go away if they are ignored. The 5 to 11 percent of school-age children who have mental or emotional disorders must have fair access to special education and related services. The upcoming renewal of the IDEA presents another opportunity to address this long-neglected issue.”

Mentioned often is that ED children end up in the learning disability category, where treatment cannot be said to meet FAPE standards. Also, the LD category is inflated.

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