Kids

Childhood Disorders: Types, Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

Image: Shutterstock

Childhood behavioral disorders, also called developmental disorders, can be broadly categorized into brain-based and behavioral disorders (1). Brain disorders are caused by neurochemical problems or variations in the brain’s structure, whereas behavioral disorders refer to patterns of behavior that cause difficulty at home, school, or other social settings in a physically healthy child.

It is difficult to differentiate between brain-based disorders and behavioral disorders because most symptoms are identical. In addition, problems in the brain’s structure may cause behavioral changes and vice versa.

Recent studies by the American Psychological Association have found that the prevalence rates of childhood disorders have increased lately, with 17.6% to 22% of American children dealing with one or more disorders (2).

Read on as we discuss some common childhood disorders, their causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Types Of Childhood Disorders

1. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder diagnosed in childhood. This may also persist during adulthood. Children with ADHD lack attention, have impulsive behavior, and are overactive (3) (4).

Causes and risk factors of ADHD

The exact causes of ADHD are unknown, but recent advances in scientific research show a strong connection between ADHD and genetic factors.

The possible causes and risk factors of ADHD include (3) (4):

  • Brain injury
  • Exposure to substances, such as lead during young age or pregnancy of the mother
  • Consumption of alcohol or tobacco during pregnancy
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature delivery
  • Family history of ADHD

According to popular belief, overconsumption of sugar by children, watching television for long, type of parenting, and social factors may cause ADHD. However, there is no research to support it.

Symptoms of ADHD

Children with ADHD may show these symptoms (3) (4):

  • Daydreaming
  • Hyperactivity
  • Inability to control emotions, maintain social relationships, or resist temptations
  • Losing track of things
  • Being excessively talkative, impatient, and forgetful
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Fidgeting

Treatment for ADHD

The treatment plan for ADHD differs from one child to another. A doctor will be able to assess the condition and suggest medications and therapy. Behavioral therapy and parent counseling are suggested for children between four and five.

A good treatment plan also requires close monitoring and regular follow-ups. Medications can be changed over time depending on the improvement of condition (3) (4).

Other management strategies that work well for ADHD are:

2. Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), also known as autism or Asperger’s syndrome, is a group of developmental disorders that cause social, communicational, and behavioral difficulties. ASD begins during early childhood and continues throughout life. Although children with ASD do not look different, they behave, interact, and learn differently from others (5) (6).

Causes and risk factors of ASD

The exact cause of ASD is unknown, but research shows that it is multifactorial.

Some possible causes and risk factors of ASD include (5) (6):

  • Genetic conditions
  • Family history of ASD
  • Children born to parents older than 35 or 40
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Genetic conditions, such as fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis, may increase the risk of ASD.

Symptoms of ASD

Some of the common symptoms are (5) (6):

  • Having low or high intelligence and detailed memory
  • Being visual (prefer learning by seeing) and auditory (prefer learning by listening) learners
  • Excelling in maths, science, music, and arts
  • Communicating through unusual words, gestures, and expressions
  • Responding and behaving differently
  • Inability to read and understand others’ feelings
  • Inability to communicate and maintain eye contact
  • Inability to respond when people talk to them
  • Repeating words said to them
  • Inability to express their needs
  • Losing the skills they once had

Treatment for ASD

Although there is no particular treatment for ASD, early intervention and management help children deal with the condition. Most treatments are based on the symptoms of children. Common treatment strategies are behavior and communication therapy, support groups, and medications (5) (6).

3. Anxiety Disorders

Pediatric anxiety disorders are mental illnesses with a prevalence rate of 10% to 20%. Children who cannot outgrow the fears they develop at a young age are likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders. Furthermore, children grow into adults and are at an increased risk of developing depression, attempting suicide, or developing other mental illnesses (2).

Some common types of pediatric anxiety disorders are (7):

  • Separation anxiety disorder (fear of being away from parents)
  • Phobias (fear of specific things, such as dogs, insects, and doctors)
  • Social anxiety disorder (fear of being in a social setting)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (being worried about the future)
  • Panic disorder (sudden onset of fear that may increase the heart rate, cause trouble in breathing, and make children feel uncomfortable)

Causes of anxiety disorders

Several factors that cause anxiety disorders are (8):

  • Family history of anxiety disorder
  • Certain neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) in the brain
  • Traumatic events, such as serious illnesses or loss of a loved one
  • Being in a family where members are anxious and fearful

Symptoms of anxiety disorders

Parents and teachers may detect anxiety disorders by the way children look and behave. Such children often feel anxious, shaky, or jittery during certain situations. Some might also have shortness of breath, a hot face, a pounding heart, and a dry mouth (8).

Treatment for anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders in childhood are mostly treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

With the help of CBT, therapists help children

  • understand how their fear affects their bodies, work, and feelings.
  • face their fears, so they eventually overcome them.

CBT also helps parents understand how to deal with their anxious children. (8).

3. Bipolar Disorder

Children with bipolar disorder experience extreme moods: sometimes they are so excited and energetic that they cannot sleep, while on other occasions, they feel sad and depressed.

The disorder is characterized by (9):

  • Extreme mood patterns
  • Mood changes that last for days or weeks
  • Disruptive behaviors that cause emotional and physical problems

Causes and risk factors of bipolar disorder

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, but research shows it is the result of biological factors and life experiences. Some of the causes are (9):

  • Genetic factors increase the risk of developing bipolar disorder by 50%. However, only 6% of children whose parents have bipolar disorder have been diagnosed with this condition.
  • Environmental factors, such as poverty, mental illness in the family, abusive parenting, and violence
  • Family history of depression
  • Changes in the brain chemistry (neurotransmitters)

Symptoms of bipolar disorder

Children may have bipolar disorder if they have manic, depressive, or mixed symptoms that last for days or weeks (9).

Symptoms of the manic episode

  • Animated behavior
  • Talking fast
  • Changing topics of conversation frequently
  • Immersed in a new, time-consuming project
  • Inability to sleep
  • Having unrealistic confidence
  • Impulsive actions

Symptoms of depressive episode

  • Feeling sad and tired
  • Inability to enjoy favorite activities
  • Inability to remember or concentrate
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Decreased appetite or a tendency to overeat
  • Thinking or talking of suicide

Symptoms of a mixed episode

  • Feeling upset or agitated
  • Having sleep issues
  • Loss of appetite or a tendency to overeat
  • Suicidal thoughts and talks

Treatment for the bipolar disorder

Although there is no cure for bipolar disorder, a healthcare professional may help you design an effective treatment plan for children to help them manage their condition and lead a normal life. The treatment options are (10):

  • Administering medications according to their age and severity of the condition.
  • Different psychotherapies help children manage their depression, low self-esteem, and communication.

Parents may help their children by

  • being patient, understanding, and supportive
  • encouraging them
  • helping them enjoy their everyday activities

5. Conduct disorder

Children with conduct disorder often have emotional and behavioral problems. For example, they are unkind to others, seek pleasure by hurting others, do not show empathy, and have difficulty following rules. Children are often referred to as bad and misbehaved, but, in reality, conduct disorder is a kind of mental illness.

Causes of conduct disorder

Some causes of conduct disorders are (11):

  • Brain damage
  • Abuse or neglect
  • Genetic factors
  • Traumatic events in life

Symptoms of conduct disorder

Some common symptoms of conduct disorders in children are (11):

  • Bullying or threatening others
  • Being physically unkind to others
  • Showing no regret for the misdeed
  • Stealing items from others
  • Running away from home
  • Ignoring the feelings of others
  • Hurting animals

Treatment for conduct disorder

Medical treatment may be complex and continues for a long time because changing the thoughts and behaviors of children takes time (11).

  • The health specialist takes information from parents, teachers, and other medical specialists to design a proper treatment plan.
  • Psychotherapy and behavior therapy are given to children to control their feelings and behavior.
  • Special education is provided to younger children who have learning disabilities.
  • Medications are used for children with depression, anger issues, and attention difficulties.

6. Learning Disabilities

Learning disability is a neurological condition where children find it difficult to read, write, listen, reason, or understand certain concepts. This does not indicate that they are lazy or unintelligent. It shows that they process information differently. There are many types of learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, dysphasia, dyspraxia, among others (12).

Causes of learning disabilities

Some causes of learning disabilities in children are (13):

  • Heredity
  • Illness or head injury after birth
  • Alcohol consumption during pregnancy
  • Premature birth and low birth weight
  • Poor nutrition
  • Exposure to toxins found in paint, ceramics, or toys
  • Disorders, such as ADHD

Symptoms of learning disabilities

Children with learning disabilities may write reverse letters, words, and numbers and face difficulty in (14)

  • differentiating between right and left
  • following and remembering instructions
  • writing, cutting, or drawing
  • understanding the concept of time
  • staying organized

Treatment for learning disabilities

Learning disabilities cannot be cured but can be effectively managed with the help of parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals. Some treatment plans recommended are (13):

  • Providing extra help by having a tutor teach the child at home.
  • Taking the help of a special educator to enhance learning abilities.
  • Providing therapies, such as speech therapy or occupational therapy (therapy to improve writing skills).
  • Extra therapies may be given through art, dance, or music.

7. Depression

Children might go through emotional ups and downs like adults. However, if the emotions of sadness, hopelessness, and irritability stay longer, it gives rise to depression. This condition, also known as depressive disorder, affects the sleep, normal activities, and appetite of children. In serious cases, it may also lead to suicidal tendencies.

Causes of depression

Some causes of depression in children are (15):

  • Family issues
  • Family history
  • Physical illness
  • Difficult life circumstances
  • Alcohol and drug usage

Symptoms of depression in children

The symptoms that indicate depression in children are (15):

  • Having behavioral disorder
  • Changing routines, such as eating and sleeping habits
  • Feeling sad and hopeless
  • Lack of interest in enjoyable activities
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling irritable

Treatment for depression

Depression is generally treated by psychotherapy (counseling) and medications (15).

  • The most common psychotherapy used is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy encourages the child to develop positive thoughts and control negative emotions.
  • Health professionals may advise parents to give antidepressants to help children overcome depression.

8. Intellectual Disabilities

Children have intellectual disabilities when they face difficulties in

  • communicating, learning and problem-solving (intellectual functioning)
  • carrying out everyday activities (adaptive behavior)

These disabilities begin during early childhood (16).

Causes of intellectual disabilities

Intellectual disabilities in children may occur due to the following reasons (16)

  • Genetic syndrome (Down syndrome or Fragile X syndrome)
  • Serious illnesses, such as measles, whooping cough, and meningitis
  • Childhood exposure to toxins
  • Brain malformation
  • Maternal disease
  • Infection during pregnancy
  • Problems during birth

Symptoms of intellectual disabilities

Some symptoms of intellectual disabilities in children are (17):

  • Learning to sit, crawl, or walk late
  • Having trouble speaking
  • Difficulty in understanding social rules
  • Difficulty in problem-solving and logical thinking

Treatment for intellectual disabilities

Intellectual disabilities persist throughout life, but early interventions may help manage the condition well. Some treatment options are (16):

  • Providing special education
  • Having a supportive family
  • Vocational programs

Parents should be patient with their children and inculcate independence and responsibility in them.

9. Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy affects children’s motor skills, movement, and muscle tone, making it difficult to coordinate their movements. The condition also affects their talking, eating, breathing, and bladder and bowel control.

Causes of cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy may happen when the child’s brain is affected while it is still developing before birth. Some causes are (18):

  • Infections at the time of pregnancy
  • Stroke before or after birth
  • Genetic disorders
  • A medical issue with the mother during pregnancy
  • Untreated jaundice

Brain damage during infancy may also cause cerebral palsy. The reasons for the damage may be:

  • Meningitis
  • Problems with blood flow in the brain
  • Shaken baby syndrome (when infants are shaken)
  • Having an accident
  • Lead poisoning

Symptoms of cerebral palsy

Children with cerebral palsy may have these symptoms (18):

  • Impaired vision or blindness
  • Hearing loss
  • Tooth decay
  • Sucking food or fluid into the lungs (food aspiration)
  • Problems with speech and learning abilities
  • Problems with sleep
  • Weak bones

Treatment for cerebral palsy

The treatments for cerebral palsy include (18):

  • Therapies for speech, learning, and hearing
  • Medicines for muscle stiffness and pain
  • Surgery for children with curved spine or dislocated hips
  • Well-balanced diet rich in calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus

10. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is when children are obsessed with a thought, anxiety, or ritual and urge to repeat the behavior.

Causes of OCD

Some of the causes of OCD are (19):

  • Lack of a brain chemical (serotonin)
  • Family history of OCD
  • Streptococcal infections

Symptoms of OCD

Some symptoms of OCD in children are (19):

  • Being obsessive about dirt and germs
  • Being repetitively doubtful
  • Repetitively touching and counting things
  • Having troubled thoughts about religious beliefs
  • Paying excessive attention to details
  • Being worried about future
  • Having violent and aggressive thoughts

Some children may also develop habits of repeating everyday activities, such as washing hands repetitively, counting and recounting something, and so on.

Treatment for OCD

The treatment for OCD depends on the age of the child and the severity of the problem. Some of the treatments are (19):

  • CBT helps children understand the problem and change their behavior.
  • Family therapy, where family members support children to get out of this habit.
  • Medicines are prescribed to increase serotonin in the brain.
  • Antibiotics are suggested to children diagnosed with streptococcal infections.

Childhood disorders greatly impact the quality of life of children and their families. Nevertheless, early intervention and proper treatment with the help of a healthcare professional may help them manage the situation well. Moreover, these children need the love and support of family to overcome these disorders and lead a normal life.

References:

MomJunction’s articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

Recommended Articles

The following two tabs change content below.

Pragya Bhargavi

Pragya Bhargavi has been in the field of content research, writing and editing for over five years. Her passion for academics and science has enabled her to write creative as well as research-based articles. She has completed her Masters in Microbiology and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Education (B.Ed). As a writer at MomJunction, Pragya aims to bring about a… more

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

Research finds quick recovery of heart function in children with COVID-19-related MIS-C
Investigational cancer drug mimics the metabolic and therapeutic effects of fasting, mice study shows
Cannabis companies flout state regulations to market products in a way that appeals to children
Early gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender teens leads to better mental health
Interactions that involve sharing saliva help babies to identify who has close relationships

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *