September 7


Smart or Struggling? The Truth About Intelligence and Emotional Behavioral Disorders in Students

By Joshua Turner

September 7, 2023

Students identified with emotional and behavior disorders (EBD) often face unique challenges in the classroom. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting these students, it’s important to understand the role intelligence plays in their academic performance. Contrary to popular belief, many students with EBD have average or above-average intelligence levels.

Research suggests that most students with EBD have IQ scores within the average range, with some even scoring in the gifted range. However, these students may struggle with executive functioning skills, such as attention, organization, and impulse control.

These challenges can impact their ability to succeed academically and socially, leading to a need for special education services.

Key Takeaways

Understanding Emotional and Behavior Disorders

Emotional and behavior disorders (EBD) affect individuals’ emotional states, social interactions, and behavior. EBD is one of the 13 disability categories recognized under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Students with EBD often have difficulty regulating their emotions and behavior, which can lead to disruptive and aggressive actions. These students may struggle with anxiety, depression, anger, and other emotional issues that affect their academic and social performance.

While no specific level of intelligence is associated with EBD, research suggests that many students with EBD have average or above-average intelligence. However, their emotional and behavioral challenges can interfere with their ability to learn and succeed in school.

It is necessary to understand that EBD is a disability that requires specialized support and services. Teachers, counselors, and other education professionals must work together to create individualized plans that address the unique needs of students with EBD. With the right interventions and support, students with EBD can thrive academically and socially.

Intelligence Levels in Students with Emotional and Behavior Disorders

Research has shown that students identified with emotional and behavior disorders (EBD) have a wide range of intelligence levels. According to a meta-analysis conducted by the American Psychological Association, EBD students have an average IQ score of 90, which falls within the low average range of intelligence.

However, note that intelligence is a complex construct that a single test cannot accurately measure. EBD students may have strengths in certain areas, such as visual-spatial or creative thinking, while struggling in other areas, such as verbal comprehension or working memory.

Additionally, it’s vital to consider the impact of environmental factors on intelligence levels. EBD students may come from disadvantaged backgrounds or have experienced trauma, which can affect their cognitive development and academic performance.

While EBD students may have lower average intelligence scores, it’s crucial to recognize and nurture their strengths and provide support to address their unique challenges.

Impact on Academic Performance

Grade Implications

Students with emotional and behavioral disorders often struggle academically, which can result in poor grades. These students may have difficulty focusing, completing assignments, and staying on task. This can lead to lower grades and a lack of engagement in the classroom.

Teachers should provide feedback to these students regularly and offer support to help them stay on track. Curriculum modifications may be necessary to accommodate the needs of these students. For example, teachers may need to provide additional resources or adjust assignments to make them more accessible.


It’s essential to recognize that students with emotional and behavioral disorders may have different learning styles and preferences. Teachers should work with these students to identify their strengths and weaknesses and develop strategies to help them succeed academically. Teachers can help these students overcome academic challenges and reach their full potential by providing individualized support.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize and manage one’s emotions and the emotions of others. Research shows that students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) often have lower levels of EI than their peers without EBD.

Having high emotional intelligence can help students with EBD develop positive relationships with peers and adults, regulate their emotions, and cope with stress and adversity. It can also improve their academic performance and overall well-being.

To enhance EI in students with EBD, educators, and mental health professionals can teach specific competencies such as self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and relationship management. These competencies can be taught through various methods, such as role-playing, modeling, and direct instruction.

Overall, the development of emotional intelligence can play a significant role in improving the outcomes of students with EBD. By enhancing their ability to manage their emotions and navigate social situations, students with EBD can experience greater success in school and beyond.

Special Education Services for Students

Special education services are designed to support and assist students with emotional and behavioral disorders. These services are provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensures that students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate education.

The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) within the U.S. Department of Education administers IDEA and oversees special education services. These services may include individualized education plans (IEPs), counseling, therapy, and other interventions to help students succeed academically and socially.

Special education teachers and staff work closely with families and other professionals to develop effective strategies for supporting students with emotional and behavioral disorders. They may also provide training and support to general education teachers to help them better understand and meet the needs of these students. Educators can help students with emotional and behavioral disorders reach their full potential by working together.

The Social Aspect: Relationships and Stigma

Students with emotional and behavioral disorders often struggle to form and maintain healthy relationships with their peers. This can be because of a variety of factors, including difficulty with social cues and a tendency towards impulsive behavior. As a result, these students may become isolated and feel disconnected from their peers, which can exacerbate their emotional and behavioral issues.

Unfortunately, a stigma is attached to having an emotional or behavioral disorder, which can further complicate matters for these students. They may be seen as “difficult” or “troubled,” and this can lead to negative attitudes from teachers, peers, and even family members. This can make it even harder for them to form positive relationships and can contribute to feelings of isolation and low self-esteem.

Educators and parents must be aware of these challenges and work to create a supportive environment for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. This can include providing social skills training, offering opportunities for positive social interactions, and challenging negative attitudes and stereotypes about these students. By doing so, we can help these students feel more connected and supported, improving their overall well-being and academic success.


Disciplinary Actions and Their Effects

Disciplinary actions like suspension can significantly impact students with emotional and behavioral disorders. These students are already struggling with their emotions and behaviors, and being removed from their school environment can exacerbate their difficulties.

Suspension can lead to feelings of isolation and rejection, which can further damage a student’s self-esteem and mental health. Additionally, missing school can have a negative impact on a student’s academic progress and make it difficult for them to catch up with their peers.

It’s significant for schools to consider alternative forms of discipline, such as restorative justice practices, that prioritize repairing harm and building relationships rather than punishment. By addressing the root causes of a student’s behavior and providing support, schools can help students with emotional and behavioral disorders thrive.

Anxiety Among Students with Emotional and Behavior Disorders

Anxiety is common among students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). These students are more likely to experience anxiety than their peers without EBD. Anxiety can manifest in a variety of ways, including physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches, avoidance of certain situations, and difficulty concentrating.

Anxiety can be particularly challenging for students with EBD because it can exacerbate their existing behavioral and emotional difficulties. For example, a student with EBD who is prone to outbursts or aggression may become even more reactive when experiencing anxiety. This can create a cycle where anxiety leads to negative behavior, which in turn leads to more anxiety.

Educators and mental health specialists must recognize the possibility of anxiety among students with EBD. Early identification and intervention can help prevent anxiety from becoming a significant barrier to academic and social success. Strategies such as relaxation techniques, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and social-emotional learning programs can be effective in helping students manage anxiety and build resilience.

The Role of Parents and Caregivers

Parents and caregivers play an essential role in educating and developing their children with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). They can support and guide their children, helping them overcome challenges and succeed in school.

One way parents and caregivers can support their children is by working closely with teachers and other professionals to develop a comprehensive plan for their education. This plan should include specific goals and strategies for addressing the child’s emotional and behavioral needs and academic goals.

Creating a positive and supportive home environment is also substantial for parents and caregivers. This can include establishing clear rules and expectations, providing consistent discipline, and offering praise and encouragement when their child makes progress.

In addition, parents and caregivers can help their children develop the necessary social and emotional skills. This can involve teaching them how to communicate effectively, manage their emotions, and build healthy relationships with others.

Overall, the role of parents and caregivers in supporting children with EBD is crucial. By working closely with professionals, creating a positive home environment, and helping their children develop important skills, they can help them overcome challenges and succeed in school and beyond.



Students identified with emotional and behavioral disorders have average to above-average intelligence levels. However, it is crucial to note that intelligence alone does not determine a student’s ability to succeed academically or socially.

Instead, a combination of factors such as effective teaching strategies, positive behavior interventions and supports, and strong family and community partnerships can greatly impact a student’s success.

It is crucial for educators and school personnel to provide appropriate interventions and support to students with emotional and behavioral disorders to ensure they have equal opportunities for success. We can help these students reach their full potential by working together and utilizing evidence-based practices.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What are effective practices for working with students with emotional and behavioral disorders?

Effective practices for working with students with emotional and behavioral disorders include individualized instruction, positive behavior support, and social-emotional learning. Teachers should also establish a positive and safe classroom environment that promotes student engagement and motivation.

Q. What types of problems are commonly exhibited by students with emotional or behavioral disorders?

Students with emotional or behavioral disorders may exhibit problems such as aggression, defiance, anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and poor social skills. These problems can affect their academic performance and social relationships.

Q. What are the characteristics of students with conduct disorders?

Students with conduct disorders tend to exhibit aggressive and antisocial behavior, such as bullying, lying, stealing, and violating rules. They may also have poor academic performance and social skills.

Q. How are students with emotional and behavioral disorders identified?

Students with emotional and behavioral disorders are identified through a comprehensive evaluation process that includes observation, interviews, and assessments of their academic, social, and emotional functioning. Teachers, parents, and mental health professionals may be involved in the evaluation process.

Q. What is the most common type of emotional or behavioral disorder?

The most common type of emotional or behavioral disorder is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which affects about 5-9% of school-aged children. Other common types include anxiety disorders, depression, and conduct disorders.

Q. What is the relationship between IQ and emotional and behavioral disorders?

Most students identified with emotional and behavioral disorders have average or above-average intelligence. However, some students with emotional and behavioral disorders may have intellectual disabilities or learning disabilities that affect their academic performance.

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