Social and Emotional Disabilities: Signs of Concern

Boy pouting

Child care providers are often the first people to recognize signs of a social or emotional disability, because they have the opportunity to observe a child in social situations day after day. Remember that most children in child care sometimes have difficulties playing with others, following rules, accepting change, or not getting their way. Some emotional displays are typical, but children who struggle with these issues so often that they become a frequent interruption may need professional evaluation of their social and emotional development.

Signs That May Suggest a Social or Emotional Disability

The following signs may suggest a social or emotional disability. Child care providers should pay close attention to a young child who:

  • Does not smile, laugh or make happy faces
  • Does not babble or make noises, or stops making such noises
  • Does not point, reach or wave by 12 months
  • Does not speak by 16 months
  • Stops speaking or refuses to speak at any age
  • Withdraws or stays quiet and passive most of the time
  • Regresses to babyish behavior whenever stress occurs
  • Cries a great deal, seems depressed and unhappy, or seldom laughs
  • Shows extreme fear and anxiety
  • Does not seem to recognize basic feelings of happiness, sadness, anger or fear
  • Always reacts in the same way, such as crying or hitting
  • Never wants to be touched
  • Regularly eats non-food items, especially after age 3
  • Shows excessive activity, restlessness or inability to stick with something
  • Shows agitation, such as screaming or pacing
  • Uses aggressive behavior to deal with most situations
  • Shows repetitive, self-stimulating acts such as rocking back and forth
  • Injures himself or herself often with head banging, self biting, eye poking or pulling own hair

If you have concerns about a child’s social or emotional development, observe the child carefully over several days or weeks. Write down exactly what you notice, and be sure to share your concerns with the child’s parents. The Tips for Child Care Providers to Communicate Concerns about Children’s Development with Parents article has suggestions on how to approach parents with your concerns.

For More Information

 For more information on supporting children with special needs in a child care program, check out the eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care section on Child Care for Children with Special Needs, or take a look at the article Adapting the Child Care Environment for Children with Special Needs. Child care providers can also support children with social and emotional disabilities through guidance, adapting activities, and managing transitions. Check out Specific Ideas for Child Care Providers to Help Children with Social and Emotional Disabilities for more information.

Photo by clairity / CC BY