Behavioural and other types of mental health disorders don’t just affect adults. They can affect children, too. A child having the odd temper tantrum here and there, or having the inability to sit still doesn’t necessarily constitute as a behavioural disorder. However, when this type of conduct becomes persistent or worsens over time, then it may be something that needs to be addressed to determine whether or not any type of medical intervention is needed. While it’s uncommon for a child to receive a diagnosis of a behavioural disorder before the age of 5, they may begin to display certain symptoms.
The most common behavioural disorders that affect children include anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), bipolar disorder, as well as learning and conduct disorders.
On a global scale, ADHD affects 5% of children. Symptoms of ADHD can manifest in a number of different ways. A child may be abnormally active, will not be able to relax, will have trouble controlling impulses or making important decisions, talk a lot, and fidget. Boys are more than two times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, and they are also much more likely to exhibit the aforementioned classic symptoms, whereas females with ADHD may also experience other symptoms such as daydreaming and being overemotional. When it comes to treating ADHD, health professionals will usually recommend behavioural therapy or medication (such as central nervous system stimulants.) However, it’s not uncommon for these treatment methods to be combined.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a common disruptive behavioural disorder. Children with this disorder are often irritable. They will also have frequent angry outbursts and disobedience directed towards people in authority, such as parents and teachers. Those outbursts may also be targeted towards their siblings and classmates. A child or teenager with a conduct disorder may also exhibit these same behaviours, though in a much more severe manner. For example, they may be excessively cruel and aggressive towards people and/or animals, have a lack of empathy, lie frequently, as well as engage in other types of violent or criminal behaviour such as vandalism, breaking and entering into homes, and arson.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is usually diagnosed in early childhood, with warning signs showing anywhere between 12 and 18 months. These warning signs include both verbal and non-verbal communication problems, such as a delay in spoken language or repetitive use of language, trouble relating to others, the inability to express or recognize emotions, restricted or repetitive behaviour, and sensory issues. As there is no cure for ASD, treatment is instead geared toward reducing symptoms through the use of medication and behavioural therapy.
Bipolar disorder, which is common in adults, can also affect children. A child that diagnosed with bipolar disorder can experience manic episodes (such as unrealistically high self-esteem, increase in energy, a decreased need for sleep, and rapid thinking and/or talking), severe mood swings, intense feelings of anger or rage, as well as depressive episodes which can also include changes in eating habits, low energy, and fatigue. A child with bipolar disorder will usually be prescribed medication (such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or anti-psychotic drugs), as well as need to attend therapy with a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist.
A child with a learning disorder may have trouble understanding or following certain instructions, have trouble retaining information, lack organization and coordination, have trouble reading, as well as have difficulty with certain tasks. There are a variety of learning disorders that a child can be diagnosed with, such as dyslexia (trouble with reading), dyscalculia (trouble with math), and dysgraphia (trouble with writing.) These types of learning disorders can have a significant impact on a child’s mood, leaving them feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. If it is suspect that a child may have a learning disorder, they will be evaluated by a healthcare professional. If a learning disorder is confirmed, the child can benefit greatly from attending special education classes. The child’s school, along with parents and healthcare professionals, will often work together to find programs that are best suited to the child’s learning abilities and needs moving forward.