Unit 1: Develop an understanding of a variety of disabilities and signs that students are struggling emotionally or socially.


Return to Main Page of Course: Supporting the Social and Emotional Needs of Children with Disabilities

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FIRST THINGS FIRST Please click HERE to go to the K-W-L Chart to begin the first activity.

While completing the K-W-L chart (in an effort to begin to access prior knowledge that you have about students with disabilities, their needs and to have you focus in on what you want to learn from this course) please reveiw the information below regarding social and emotional needs of children with disabilities.


Children with disabilities are affected in a variety of ways in the classroom as well as outside of school. Not all children with disabilities will become angry, sad, upset, or anxious, but it is very common. Educators should be cognizant of the different types of social and affective problems they are likely to confront in students with disabilities (Gorman, 1999, p. 9).

One of the most important things to remember is that every child is different and special in their own way. We need to be willing to listen to their needs and be effective with our support. Please take a moment to view the following video that truly open my eyes and made me realize that what students truly need.

Please remember to hit the BACK BROWSER after viewing the video to return to this page!

Dear Teacher, A Letter From Our Students

Children with or without a disability face numerous challenges in the classroom and in life itself. These students often feel as though they are a part of two worlds, one as a student with a disability and the other as a student with social and emotional challenges. As mainstream and inclusion classrooms become increasely pervasive, it is vital for all teachers to understand the interaction of emotional concerns and disabilities and the impact of that interaction on the child's functioning. Promoting this type of wellness in children requires purposeful attention and intervention in both educational and emotional areas. It is not always possible to determine which of the two factors, the disability or the social/emotional need, is responsible for a child's performance. But it is important to keep in mind the types of intervention strategies that can be helpful.


  • Participants will be able to define the five way interaction among students with disabilities
  • Participants will be able to discriminate social and emotional characteristics of children who are disabled.
  • Participants will be able to respond to questions on new terms and concepts



Individuals with disabilities face challenges in:

  • Academic Achievement
    • Reading
    • Written Language
    • Mathematics
  • Memory
  • Metacognition
  • Social/ Emotional/ Behavioral

We are going to focus in on the Social and Emotional struggles of children with a disability. Listed below are signs that a child might be struggling socially or emotionally;

  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Increased anxiety, particularly in academic situations
  • Increased sadness or irritability
  • Acting Out
  • Reduced Motivation
  • Depression
  • Low Academic Self-Concept
  • Physical Ailments or Complaints
  • Escaping School

When we look deeper into it, Jean Gorman (1999) discusses and explains the Five-Way Interaction to watch for when working with children with disabilities.

1. Learning disabilities may lead to emotional distress.

Students with disabilities tend to have higher levels of emotional concerns such as depression, loneliness, and lower self-esteem, than do their peers without disabilities. Researchers have found that students with disabilities, as early as Grade 3, have negative academic self-concepts that may be generalized from low self-views in specific academic subjects(Gorman, 1999, p. 2). Students can feel less integrated in the school, and at times can feel victimized more often than their peers with a disability. Referenced by Gorman, Margalit and Zak (1984) found that children with disabilities have higher levels of anxiety than do their peers (p. 2). They tended to feel more often that events beyond their control were happening to them. These increased levels of anxiety are reflected in more frequent somatic complaints by students with learning disabilities (p. 3). "School achievement has become equated with self-competency, and the loss of competence has led to feelings of inadequacy, depression, withdrawal and an uncaring attitude. Where as for others, poor school performance leads to dependency and learned helplessness as a maladaptive style of coping" (p. 3).

2.Disabilities may exacerbate existing emotional concerns.

Researchers have suggested that disabilities may negatively affect a child's social and/or emotional functioning because the disabilities influence the child's ability to develop positive interpersonal relationships. "Deficits in cognitive processing, which are sufficient to cause major learning problems in academic areas, are probably sufficient to cause major learning problems in nonacademic areas as well" (Bender, 1994, p. 323). Students often demonstrate more problems in social competence than do their peers without disabilities. Teachers have reported that students with learning disabilities as "behaving in less socially acceptable ways" than their peers (Gorman, 1999, p. 4). Children with disabilities will most likely experience additional confusion, sadness, and anxiety that may already be present as a result of the disability itself.

3. Emotional and behavioral displays may mask emotional and behavioral displays.

Often a child's learning disabilities go unnoticed because other aspects of the child are more significant, such as acting out or personality features. At times, teachers may be too focused on a child's demeanor or actions and may not realize that learning difficulties are present on an academic level. Physical ailments or complaints can be a sign of a student struggling as well. Students may complain of minor issues such as stomach aches, "communicate feelings of stress and inadequacy and are designed to prompt adult support and guidance" (Gorman, 1999, p. 5). This type of expression can be considered a coping strategy for children with disabilities or a way of avoiding situations or events that manifest unrealized anxiety in a physical manner. In terms of "acting out", a child may feel that he or she is "dumb" and at times may turn that self-doubt into hatred on themselves while continually misbehaving. Failure may serve as a defense, "failing in order to rid oneself of the anticipation of failure" (p. 6). Children may use disruptive behaviors to intentionally or unintentionally distract their teachers from their difficulties.

4. Emotional problems may magnify learning disabilities.
"Constant failure and frustration may lead to strong feelings of inferiority, which in turn, may intensify the initial learning deficiency" (p. 7). Children at times may "escape into fantasy" to avoid the painful experience of failure. This then in turn, results in failing to learn new skills but also reinforces the child's sense that the disability is too much to handle. For example, if a child's efforts are unsuccessful, but they see their peers receive praise for their work, it is very likely that the child will become unresponsive to school-related and academic events and may abandon effort completely.

5. Emotional health can actually enhance the performance of children with learning disabilities.
Research studies have indicated that inducing positive feelings in children assisted in the learning of new skills. "Positive affect results in a more efficient utilization of cognitive material than neutral or negative moods, as well as positive affect may influence cognitive organization such as cognitive material is more integrated and related" (p. 8). Studies have also shown that an increased understanding of what a learning disability encompasses may add to a child's ability to deal with his or her disability as a whole. Older children may be better able to identify and deal with anxiety-provoking school situations, such as separation from peers, and may thus be less negatively affected. This is why it is vital that educators are aware of the signs and can assist and support the younger children in schools today.


As much as we have discussed students with disabilities, there are also students who are gifted that face numerous challenges at school as well as outside of the classroom. The following link is a great article explaining the Social and Emotional Needs of Twice Exceptional Students.

The Social and Emotional Needs of Twice Exceptional Students

You May Now Add to the K-W-L chart you began earlier in the unit, listing new vocabulary and information learned: K-W-L Chart

Questions for Reflection:

Take a moment to write down your thoughts to the following questions:

  • What are the key characteristics of students who are struggling emotionally or socially?
  • What are the five-way interactions to watch for?
  • Brainstorm classroom set ups that would provide positive environments for students.

Congratulations! You completed Unit 1! The following link will take you on to Unit 2: UNIT 2


Bender, W. (1994). Learning Disabilities: Best practice for professionals. Austin, TX: PRO: ED.

Ehmke, R. (2016). Supporting the Emotional Needs of Kids with Learning Disabilities. Child Mind. 1-12

Gorman, J,C. (1999). Understanding Children's Hearts and Minds: Emotional Functioning and Learning Disabilities. LD Online. 1-11

King, E. W. (2005). Addressing the Social and Emotional Needs of Twice-Exceptional Students. Council for Exceptional Children. 16-20