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Mental Disorder Vs Normal Development: Here's What Your Child's Challenging Behaviour Trying To Tell You

Mental Disorder Vs Normal Development: Here's What Your Child's Challenging Behaviour Trying To Tell You
Is Your Child’s Behaviour a Mental Disorder or Just Normal Development?

Understanding what your child's behaviour is trying to say about their overall growth and development is important. Wondering how? Learn from the expert below.

Written by Satata Karmakar |Published : March 30, 2023 9:12 AM IST

Children do a lot of activities which may resemble developmental delay or resemble mental illness. Children differ from adults as they are in the process of experiencing many physical, mental and emotional changes as they progress through their natural growth and development. They're also in the process of learning how to cope, adapt and relate to others in the world and around them. Thus at times they can act weird and so to differentiate their behaviour from any mental illness is a tricky situation. We spoke to Dr Puja Kapoor, Paediatric Neurologist & Co-founder of Continua kids, to understand what a child's behaviour tells about their overall development and health.

How to Interpret Your Child's Behaviors

There are several different types of mental disorders that can affect children. These include anxiety disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), disruptive behaviour disorders, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), eating disorders etc.

Symptoms in children vary depending on the type of mental illness and their age of recognition. In general, the symptoms include an inability to cope with daily problems and activities normal for their age, and changes in sleeping or eating habits.

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An ADHD child may show poor scholastic performance, may not be able to make friends, is disorganised, hits others, may not remain calm in one place, and could not wait for his turn.

Similarly, a lot of children will do toe walking, talk to themselves, have preference for clothes, fixations to certain toys etc, but if they are associated with lack of social connection, speech delay, decrease eye contact, minimal name response, then it could be autism spectrum disorder.

Other mental conditions may present as defying authority, skipping school, stealing or damaging property. Frequent outbursts of anger repeatedly and, above and beyond what is normal for their age group. Loss of interest in friends and activities they used to enjoy, excessive worrying or anxiety, hyperactivity or persistent disobedience and aggressive behaviour could also be the symptoms of an underlying illness.

What Causes Mental Disorders In Kids?

The exact cause of most mental disorders is not known, but research suggests that a combination of factors, including heredity, biology, psychological trauma and environmental stress, may be involved. Many mental disorders run in families making it a genetic cause. Some mental disorders might be triggered by psychological trauma such as severe emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Stressful or traumatic events can trigger a disorder in a person with a vulnerability to a mental disorder, for example, if there's a lot of family discord in a child's life and the family has a history of mental illness, you're more likely to see problems in the child.

Mental disorders in children are diagnosed based on symptoms and behaviours. However, diagnosing mental illness in children can be especially difficult. Many behaviours that are seen as symptoms of mental disorders, such as shyness, anxiety, strange eating habits and temper tantrums, can occur as a normal part of a child's development. Behaviours become symptoms when they occur very often, like daily, last a long time, occur at an unusual age, such as children who are close to teenage years who are acting like they were five, or they cause significant disruption to the child or family's life, such as if the child refuses to go to school.

There are no lab tests that can diagnose mental disorders. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a child for a mental disorder.

Mental illnesses are like medical disorders such as diabetes or heart disease. They require ongoing treatment, and the most common treatment options include medication, psychotherapy which is a type of counselling, and certain therapy such as occupational therapy or Applied Behaviour Therapy.

Without treatment, many mental disorders can continue to adulthood and lead to problems in all areas of a person's adult life. This includes alcohol or drug abuse, violent or self-destructive behaviours and even suicide. When treated appropriately and early, many children can successfully control their symptoms.

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