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Spotting Behavioral Disorders in your Child

When your child’s behavior suddenly shifts or when something doesn’t seem quite right, how do you identify the cause and help them?

Understanding different types of behavioral disorders

The term “behavioral disorders” can be used to describe a broad range of abnormalities, each with their own specific treatments. The first step in dealing with any mental illness or condition is to correctly identifying the symptoms.

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

    – Symptoms of ASD typically begin to manifest before the age of three. ASD interferes with a child’s ability to read emotions and to communicate effectively with other people. The degree of severity can vary dramatically and high-functioning individuals often go on to lead productive, happy lives.

  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

    – This umbrella term may apply to children who exhibit overly impulsive behavior, struggle with paying attention, or are overly hyperactive. Some children may have one of these symptoms, while others may exhibit all three.

  • Mood disorders

    – Bipolar disorder, depression and other mood disorders are often underdiagnosed in children, but do occur and can cause significant damage.

  • Schizophrenia

    – A chronic mental illness that usually manifests in the late teenage years or early twenties, schizophrenia causes the afflicted to lose touch with reality. It can appear in various guises. Some sufferers experience auditory or visual hallucinations.

  • Anxiety disorders

    – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and other anxiety disorders can vary greatly in severity. When one begins to get in the way of a child’s daily life and does not appear to go away, it should be time to consider treatment.

Tell-tale signs in different age groups

Although behavioral disorders vary greatly, there are some general warning signs to watch out for. If you notice unexplained behavioral changes, especially prolonged periods of sadness or disproportionately intense anxieties, take note. In some children, anxieties and fears may manifest as persistent, medically unexplained headaches or stomach aches. Watch out for a sudden drop in grades or if teachers suddenly mention that a student is having trouble concentrating. Some children or teenagers may turn to self-injury (this includes burning or cutting oneself) or substance abuse in order to cope with their emotions.

What to do next

If you suspect something may be wrong, ask your pediatrician to recommend a specialist. Finding the right path to treatment may be a long and complicated process; every child and every behavioral disorder is different. Some doctors may recommend psychotherapy or behavioral therapy to help correct certain conditions, while others may require medication, or a combination of the two.

No matter what specific condition your child is seeking treatment for, it is important to remain positive, respectful and supportive throughout the process. Mental illness and learning disorders carry a rather large stigma and your child may have difficulty both accepting the fact and moving forward with their treatment. By letting them know that you are there for them when they need it, you can make a tremendous positive difference.


  1. Mayo Clinic: Healthy Lifestyle – Children’s health – Mental illness in children: Know the signs. Available from: Accessed on July 4, 2015.


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