Behavioural disorders are a diverse group of conditions in which a student chronically performs highly inappropriate behaviours. A student with this condition might seek attention, for example, by acting out disruptively in class. Other students with the condition might behave aggressively, be distractible and overly active, seem anxious or withdrawn or seem disconnected from everyday reality.
As with learning disabilities, the sheer range of signs and symptoms defies concise description. But the problematic behaviours do have several general features in common (Kauffman, 2005; Hallahan & Kauffman, 2006).
They tend to:
• Be extreme
• Persist for extended periods of time
• Be socially unacceptable (e.g. unwanted sexual advances or vandalism against school property)
• Affect school work
• Have no other obvious explanation (e.g. a health problem or temporary disruption in the family)
The variety among behavioural disorders means that estimates of their frequency tend to vary across educational systems. It also means that in some cases, a student with a behavioural disorder may be classified as having a different condition, such as ADHD or a learning disability.
In other cases, a behavioural problem shown in one school setting may seem serious enough to be labelled as a behavioural disorder, even though a similar problem occurring in another school may be perceived as serious, but not serious enough to deserve the label.
In any case, available statistics suggest that only about one to two per cent of students, or perhaps less, have true behavioural disorders—a figure that is only about one half or one third of the frequency for intellectual disabilities (Kauffman, 2005).
Due to the potentially disruptive effects of behavioural disorders, however, students with this condition are of special concern to teachers. Just one student who is highly aggressive or disruptive can interfere with the functioning of an entire class and challenge even the best teacher’s management skills and patience.