It's a broad term used to describe various emotional disorders and conditions. Some disorders that fit under this category are anxiety/mood disorders, conduct disorders, eating disorders, and psychiatric disorders. ED can affect every facet of student learning, such as concentration, pressures of student responsibilities and time limits, and social interaction.
I think one of the most challenging parts of being a special education teacher is working with students that have emotional disturbances. I don't think there is one right answer for helping these students, but I can share things that I know have worked. You can also take ideas and adapt them to fit what works for you and your students. These are not quick fixes, and invested time is required to help these students.
1. The most important thing is knowing your student. You need to study them. Know what type of emotional disturbance they have, their history/experiences, and try to access records from a psychologist or counselor if applicable. The more you know, the better you will understand that student. The more you understand the student, the easier it will be to sympathize with them and help them.
2. Learn what the student likes and what their strengths are. Set the student up for success. Give opportunities that will allow you to praise them and build them up.
3. Support the student by including them in group activities such as partner work and cooperative learning groups. It may be overwhelming for some students, so give them a place to go when they need a break from all the stimuli.
4. Set clear classroom rules and expectations. Be consistent ALL of the time with your behavior procedures. Students with ED do not need wishy washy. They need to know what is expected of them throughout the whole day.
5. Provide accommodations that help students reach their behavior IEP goals. Do not expect them to be successful 100% of the time. They are not going to be perfect and they will still have bad days, no matter what plan is in place.
6. Communicate with their parents or legal guardians. They will be beneficial when making behavior plans for their child. Also, that is your way to stay informed on medication changes and any other changes that could affect their behavior. Life is tough for kids, too. I think we tend to forget that sometimes.
7. Do not take things personally and do not get stressed over what isn't being accomplished. You are accomplishing more than you realize. We will never know what impact we make in children's lives, and students with ED cannot be successful academically until their behaviors are under control.