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Childhood Mental Disorders and Illnesses
Basic Information
Introduction to Disorders of ChildhoodIntellectual DisabilitiesMotor Skills DisordersLearning DisordersCommunication DisordersAutism and Pervasive Developmental DisordersADHD and Disruptive Behavior DisordersFeeding and Elimination DisordersAnxiety DisordersReactive Attachment DisorderStereotypic Movement DisorderTic DisordersInfancy, Childhood or Adolescence, Not Otherwise Specified
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Autism Spectrum Disorder
Child & Adolescent Development: Overview
Child Development & Parenting: Infants (0-2)
Child Development & Parenting: Early (3-7)

Introduction to Disorders of Childhood

Andrea Barkoukis, M.A., Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D., and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Children are precious; As parents we worry about their health. When our children have issues and crises, these issues and crises affect us just as much, if not more, than it affects them. We fear that which might bring them fear; we hurt when we see them hurt; and sometimes, we cry just seeing them cry. Writer Elizabeth Stone once said "Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." So, when it seems like something is not quite right with your children - perhaps they seem more afraid than other kids, or they seem to get a lot angrier than their playmates do over certain things - this odd or "off" behavior can be experienced as terrifying. In fact, a child's difficulty can be just the starting point for your parental worry and concern. You might not know what to do to help your child, or where to go for help. Possibly, you may worry because you don't even know if your child's problem is something you should be concerned about in the first place.

We've created this survey of childhood mental and emotional disorders to help worried parents better understand the various ways that mental illness can effect children; what it looks like and how it can be helped. Children's mental and emotional disorders are problems that affect not only their behavior, emotions, moods, or thoughts, but can also affect the entire family as well. These problems are often similar to other types of health problems that your child might have, and can generally be treated with medications or psychotherapy (or a combination of both).

We're going to be using the term "childhood disorders" with some frequency. Many childhood disorders are often labeled as developmental disorders or learning disorders, so you may have heard those terms as well. Generally, when we speak about childhood disorders, we are referring to mental and emotional problems that most often occur and are diagnosed when children are school aged or younger. Usually, symptoms start during infancy or in early childhood, although some of the disorders may develop throughout adolescence.

The diagnostic criteria for the childhood disorders specifically require that symptoms first appear at some point during childhood. Adults may find themselves relating to some of the symptoms characteristic of one or more childhood disorders, but unless those adults first experienced their symptoms as children themselves, whatever it is that they may have will not be a childhood disorder, but instead, some other adult diagnosis.

Though by definition, no disorder discussed in this document may begin in adulthood, it is possible for a childhood disorder to begin at a young age but continue to be problematic on into adulthood. Conversely, some childhood disorders tend to resolve by the time children enter adulthood. Or, prior to adulthood, children may developed a set of coping skills that allow them to compensate for their disorder(s) so that they can go on to lead a happy and productive life. This latter outcome is especially likely when the right type of professional intervention has been obtained (and followed consistently) from an early age.