Childhood can be a magical time, but it comes with its own unique challenges. Many children and adolescents experience times of increased stress as they face new developmental challenges or navigate family changes. With the support of their caregivers, many children and adolescents can utilize their personal and environmental resources to cope with these stressors. In some cases, however, having some additional help or support can help decrease family conflict and help kids feel better faster. One of the first steps in treating children and adolescents is know when they need help. Below is a description of some of the more common disorders of childhood and adolescence.
Just like adults, children can experience prolonged periods of sadness or depression. But unlike adults, children often lack the language to describe their internal experience, and because of their different cognitive and developmental abilities, their presentation offer differs significantly from the typical adult presentation of depression. In children, depression may look like a sad or depressed mood most days of the week, but it can also appear as unusually intense irritability or general “grouchiness” that is not transient. Children are also more likely to experience physiological symptoms, such as sleep disruption, appetite disturbances, and difficulty concentrating. Similar to their adult counterparts, child and adolescent depression can also include social withdrawal, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, and a loss of pleasure from previously enjoyable activities.
Anxiety is a very helpful emotion; it’s what can alert us to danger and can activate us to take necessary action to prepare and respond to intense situations. But when a child experiences anxiety that is pervasive and persistent, it can be a sign of an anxiety disorder, especially if that constant state of worry causes the child or family distress, or keeps the child from fully participating in other, age-appropriate activities. In child and adolescent anxiety, children often show intense fear of situations/stimuli in the form of tantrums, verbal protest, and avoidance. They may also show their increased level of physiological arousal through hyperactivity and impulsivity that can often look similar to AD/HD. Sleep disruptions and a loss of bladder control are also not uncommon.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD)
AD/HD is one of the most common childhood disorders and can continue through adolescence and into adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty paying attention and staying focused, difficulty controlling one’s behavior, and hyperactivity (over-activity). Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are the key behaviors of AD/HD. It is normal for all children to be inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive sometimes, but for children with AD/HD, these behaviors are more severe and occur more often. To be diagnosed with the disorder, a child must have had symptoms for 6 or more months and to a degree that is greater than other children of the same age.