Behavioral and Mental Health Conditions in Children

There have been great strides forward in approaches to children’s mental health and behavioral issues in recent years. A few decades ago a child who was disruptive or struggling in any way at school would be labeled as lazy, or deemed not to be very bright. Unless there was some clear evidence of a mental disability, these kids wouldn’t get any extra help or support, but would mostly have found themselves in trouble and deeply unhappy growing up. Thankfully children’s prospects have improved greatly since then, with the recognition that they can be affected by mental health problems and the improved knowledge of conditions such as high functioning autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia and dyscalculia, and other learning difficulties.

Recognition of disorders in children

Having said that much has improved in respect of child mental health, diagnosis is still one of the greatest challenges. Very often parents will notice aspects to their children’s development or behavior that concern them. If the signs are clear for a health professional on examination and talking to the child, then doors will be opened for treatment and assistance options that weren’t previously available. However, children who only exhibit some signs, or aren’t clearly and definitively being affected by a specific set of symptoms that conforms to the accepted definition of a specific condition, can find themselves being excluded from treatment. In other words, parents can be thought of as being overly worried, or the symptoms so mild as to not present a problem for the child. There is also the idea that parents may try to explain away simple bad behavior or underperformance by getting their child labeled, thus relieving them of their responsibility for having undisciplined offspring.

Spectrums and interpretations

There’s still some debate over whether all children who fall behind at school or behave inappropriately, have some kind of condition or disorder that explains the situation. Are some kids just intellectually inferior, or born troublemakers? This has been explained in part by the idea of a spectrum of behavior, ranging from completely normal at one end, to completely dysfunctional at the other end. This spectrum is most commonly referred to when considering autistic disorders. The range of different forms of autism and the effects it has on any child are so wide that it’s almost impossible to pigeon-hole anyone into a specific diagnosis. The problem about having a spectrum is defining the point at which a child moves from being what would be termed normal, to requiring help. Normal is really another way of saying “what most people are like”; for the person with autism, the way they are is normal for them. Many so-called normal people show autistic traits in their behavior, but wouldn’t consider themselves to be autistic. Therefore, children who are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum may still fail to get the help they need to fulfil their potential.

Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger kids are said to be high-functioning autistics because they are often highly intelligent, but lack many of the social and emotional abilities that come naturally to their peers. This means they may behave inappropriately in social situations and seem to lack feeling, becoming fixated on their own interests and hobbies. The problem is that they don’t process emotions in the same way as non-Asperger’s people; they may say they don’t feel the same emotions, but often they don’t understand them. They find it hard to comprehend socially acceptable behaviors, for example, why you shouldn’t tell someone they look awful in that dress, or why you need to tell someone you love them more than once.If you’ve said“I love you,” to them then they know, so what’s the point in saying it over and over again? Aspies, as they call themselves, struggle with empathy, which is the understanding of other people’s feelings; and they very often have degrees of hypersensitivity that make them dislike physical contact and need time alone. However, they can also learn to mimic how others behave, in order to fit in better. Not all people with Asperger’s will have the same symptoms or the same social problems, and the ways they learn to cope will differ too, but the stress this involves can make them depressed and angry. How much better would they be if they understood more about themselves and were shown ways to live with their differences?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Or ADHD; what some people still view as an excuse for bad behavior. Kids with this condition tend to be on the go all the time, yet find it hard to settle or concentrate. They may be loud, boisterous, over-exuberant, and have a tendency to get into trouble. All the attributes, in fact, that would have gotten them labeled as disruptive in previous generations. The evidence to support the reality of this as a genuine condition cannot be disputed if you take the trouble to study the research, but because kids can often be difficult when they’re growing up, how does a parent know if it’s ADHD or just plain naughtiness? This is still a subject of debate, with some experts claiming that there are causes for all forms of undesirable behavior, while others are claiming that not everything that doesn’t fit our idea of normal should be medicalized. What is true about ADHD is that with appropriate drug treatment, about which you can get more info here, children’s behavior does improve and they find it easier to manage their lives.

There are many challenges facing health professionals specializing in mental health and behavioral disorders. Much more research needs to be completed before a clearer picture will be available, but given the progress of recent history, the signs are good that our knowledge of these conditions and how best to diagnose and treat them will advance significantly in the near future. In the meantime, practitioners in this specialty need to be especially vigilant in their professional development activities; finding, reading and analyzing all the new research that is published to inform their understanding and advance their practice.

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