of Childhood Disorders •
Signs & Symptoms •
of the seemingly carefree nature of their lives, children
have been thought not to suffer from mental and emotional
disorders. However, studies have indicated that children do,
in fact, suffer from disorders typically thought to occur
only in adults. Learning and conduct disorders, substance
abuse, conditions such as autism and depression, and suicide
are common in our young population.
When children develop mental or emotional disorders, parents
often blame themselves. But childhood disorders are likely
caused by a combination of many factors. It is important to
recognize the problem and seek treatment as soon as possible.
Often these conditions can be treated effectively, allowing
our children to grow into happy, productive adults.
Types of Childhood Disorders
Recognizing and understanding some of the disorders common
in children is the first step.
Major depression, manic depressive disorder (also called
bipolar disorder) and mania are disorders which cause change
in a child's mood. Depression is considered to be the most
common mental disorder. It is often mistaken for "the
blues" and therefore goes untreated. Depression is
caused by a number of factors, from chemical imbalances
to environmental influences to genetics.
Major depression causes people to feel hopeless, exhausted
and useless. More than changes in mood, major depression
can cause problems with sleep, appetite, self-esteem, daily
activities and physical health.
depressive disorder (bipolar disorder) causes swings from
deep depression to abnormal elation or "highs."
Hyperactivity, scattered ideas, easy distraction, irritability
and recklessness also occur in bipolar disorder during manic
Certain fears are common in children. But when they don't
go away with time, they may be a sign of anxiety disorders.
Anxiety disorders come in many forms and may be experienced
differently in each person. However, their common factor
is a feeling of constant terror, dread or worry beyond one's
normal reactions to danger.
Phobias are irrational fears of objects or situations which
cannot be overcome with reasonable explanations or actions.
Not to be confused with simple childhood fears that go away
with time, like a fear of the dark, phobias are so extreme
that they cause major disruption to the victim's life.
phobias are typically fears of particular objects or situations.
The most common are fears of animals, fears of heights,
fears of enclosed spaces and fears of flying.
phobias cause people to dread being watched or humiliated
while doing something of a social nature, such as eating
a meal or giving a speech, due to expectation of negative
evaluation. Some people with social phobias fear and avoid
any contact with others.
with agoraphobia often have panic attacks and fear being
in situations in which they cannot get help or escape. Often,
this paralyzing fear causes its sufferers to remain isolated
in their homes.
anxiety disorder is marked by intense anxiety or panic when
separated from parents or other loved ones. This disorder
can be so extreme that it disrupts normal activities. Often
children with separation anxiety disorder will cling to
their parents or stay close wherever they go. They may refuse
to play outside, spend the night with a friend, or even
go on errands. This disorder is also characterized by physical
ailments, such as headaches, nausea and vomiting, and even
heart palpitations and dizziness. Separation anxiety can
explain why many children refuse to attend school.
Conduct disorders are thought to be the single largest group
of psychiatric illnesses in young people. Often beginning
before teen years, the symptoms of these problems are frequently
mistaken for juvenile delinquency or the turmoil of growing
up. Some common behaviors include stealing, consistent lying,
cruelty, deliberate destruction of property, fighting with
or without weapons, or even rape.
are many studies into the biological, psychological and
sociological causes of conduct disorders, but like many
other disorders, conduct disorders are probably caused by
a number of factors. Conduct disorders will not go away
with age, and therefore treatment is critical.
Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) affects a child's ability
to concentrate, learn and maintain a normal level of activity.
Excessive activity, impatience, constant distraction, shifting
from one activity to another and restless sleeping are common
to ADD. But these behaviors may develop as a result of other
problems, like an inability to see or hear adequately, or
another physical or emotional illness. A physician should
conduct a thorough medical examination to diagnose ADD and/or
rule out other possible problems.
is the most disabling of pervasive development disorders,
a series of disorders that affect intellectual skills; responses
to senses; and the ability to communicate. Autistic children
fail to develop normal relationships with anyone, including
parents. As infants, they may resist affection or consistently
cling to someone. As they grow older, they may not seek
comfort if they are hurt, and they generally like to play
alone. Autistic children have difficulty communicating because
they don't develop language skills. They may not use words
correctly, or they may develop a language all their own.
Sometimes autistic children go through repetitive body movements.
They may become preoccupied with or extremely attached to
particular objects. Autistic children usually require order
in their environment and usually follow strict routines.
Children who suffer from mental or emotional disorders
may display one or more of the following behaviors:
of suicide or threats to others
feelings of intense tension or anxiety
changes in eating and/or sleeping habits
thoughts and speech
and/or extreme changes in mood and behavior
from friends and family
of interest in favorite activities Loss of energy
ailments that occur seemingly without cause
Mental health professionals offer a wide range of effective
therapies and treatments, drawing on significant advances
in procedures and technologies. Like mental illnesses in
adults, childhood disorders usually require a combination
of medication and supportive psychological therapies either
in the hospital or on an outpatient basis.
is commonly prescribed for childhood disorders and has been
proved an increasingly effective tool. This type of treatment
requires careful supervision by a physician and is targeted
at the chemical imbalances associated with these disorders.
Like any drugs, these medications may have side effects.
addresses the emotional response to childhood disorders. Coping
with life's stressful events is especially difficult for children
with mental or emotional illness. Psychotherapists help children
understand their emotions and deal with their problems in
a more confident, healthy way.
Supportive therapies include a number of related activities
designed to enhance treatment of childhood disorders.
most successful treatments of medication, psychotherapy and
supportive therapies are tailored to the individual child's
needs under the close supervision of a psychiatrist - a physician
who specializes in childhood disorders.