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Richard Doty
IU Media Relations

Theresa Ochoa
School of Education

Last modified: Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Children with emotional disabilities need special help, IU educator says

Many teachers lack the necessary preparation to successfully work with children with emotional disabilities, according to Theresa Ochoa, an Indiana University School of Education professor who is researching ways to improve this situation.

"Teachers expect that students with emotional and behavioral disorders can behave if they want to, but this is the wrong premise because the emotional disabilities within these students are not readily apparent or visible," said Ochoa, an assistant professor of special education who studies emotional behavior disorders.

She said the problem is complex as students with these emotional disorders are not able to process information and understand the consequences of their behavior like most children. "This means the results for the student are more often punitive instead of positive," she said.

Ochoa is addressing the situation through the development of multimedia ways to train future teachers who work with these problem students. "We are using CD-ROMS and disk case studies in a Problem Based Learning concept. Our students work with disability and school discipline modules that incorporate visual and audio components," she explained. The Web link for the project is

"We need to educate undergraduates on the positive interventions needed to reduce such disruptive behavior as biting, crying and stealing. We need to start with early intervention at the first grade or sooner and not wait until the fourth, fifth or sixth grade, because then it is sometimes too late to make a difference. This intervention should involve the social worker, school psychologist, parents, teacher and principal, because just relying on the teacher is not enough," she said.

Ochoa, who teaches classes on emotional and behavioral disorders, said the students with emotional disabilities appear normal, which makes the analysis of their condition more difficult. "They do not have mental retardation and they do not have physical disabilities. They are not clearly identifiable because their hidden disabilities relate to their emotions or their behavior," she said.

Nationwide conservative estimates conducted by the U.S. Department of Education indicate that 10 percent of all students have significant mental health needs that adversely affect their ability to succeed in school, she said. However, only half of these students receive the help they need. The problem is complicated, she added, because federal and state policies assume that teachers can differentiate between misconduct and emotional disability, and this is a case of the mandate exceeding the understanding of the teachers.

Her research will contribute to a long-range solution to the problem by instructing future teachers in the proper techniques and approaches to successfully dealing with these students.

For more details, contact Ochoa at 812-856-8135 or