TEACHING STUDENTS WITH EMOTIONAL/SOCIAL IMPAIRMENTS
Students with emotional and social disabilities present some of the most
difficult challenges to a professor. Like some disabilities, these
impairments may be hidden or latent, with little or no effect on learning.
Unlike students with other kinds of disabilities, emotional disabilities
may manifest themselves in behavior ranging from indifference to
disruptiveness. Such conduct may make it difficult to remember that
students with emotional and social impairments have little control over
One of the most common psychological impairments among students is
depression. The condition may be temporary, a response to inordinate
pressures at school, on the job, at home or in one's social life.
Depression may be manifested as a pathological sense of hopelessness or
helplessness which may provoke, in its extreme, threats or attempts at
suicide. It may appear as apathy, disinterest, inattention, impaired
concentration, irritability, or as fatigue or other physical symptoms
resulting from changes in eating, sleeping or other living patterns.
Anxiety is also prevalent among students and may also be a reaction to
stress. A student need not be psychologically impaired to experience
anxiety. Mild anxiety, in fact, may promote learning and improve
functioning. Severe anxiety, however, may reduce concentration, distort
perception and weaken the learning process. Anxiety may manifest itself as
withdrawal, constant talking, complaining, joking or crying, or extreme
fear, sometimes to the point of panic. Bodily symptoms might include
episodes of lightheadedness or hyperventilation.
Some troubled students who are undergoing treatment take prescription
medication to help control disturbing feelings, ideas and behavior. This
medication might cause undesirable side effects such as drowsiness or
In dealing with psychological conditions that impair the functioning of the
affected student, follow the principles outlines for working with students
with any disabilities in the Overview section of this handbook. If the
behavior begins to affect others, your course or your instructions, think
about the following suggestions:
Discuss inappropriate behavior with the student privately and forthrightly,
delineating the limits of acceptable conduct. It may be appropriate to have
a witness to your conversation. Feel free to contact the ADA Officer or
Coordinator of Disability Services for this purpose.
In your discussion with the student, do not attempt to diagnose or treat
the psychological disorder, but only discuss the student's behavior in the
If you sense that discussion would not be effective, or if the student
approaches you for therapeutic help, refer the student to the Counseling
Center, the Student Health Center or the Office of Disability Services.
Follow-up to encourage scheduling the appointment.
If abusive or threatening behavior occurs, refer the matter to the Office
of Disability Services or the Office of the Vice President for Academic