Disorders in Childhood

Anxiety and depression are common childhood mood disorders that tend to manifest themselves in two ways – externally and internally. It is often easiest to write off a tantrum and call a kid out on conduct than it is to actually understand what’s behind it. Children and adolescents may manifest one or a combination of these disorders. For each condition, it’s important that children receive professional care. Here are some disorders observed in childhood:

  1. Depression. Similar to adult depression, there is a general lethargy and loss of motivation. A child experiencing depression, however, does not experience the same amount of guilt and loss of appetite as an adult. Difficulty concentrating, behavior problems, and a lack or excess of sleep may also characterize depression.
  2. Anxiety. Most children may experience separation anxiety as a general fear of being away from their parent/s. Sometimes attributed to overprotection by the parents, children can become anxious about their environment. Anxiety in children is considered normal in their developmental and early schooling years.
  3. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD is characterized by difficulty concentrating; it has three types: the hyperactive (“malikot”) type, the inattentive, daydreaming type, and the combined hyperactive and inattentive type. Children with ADHD may experience problems with peers as they are seen difficult to get a long with, and this may in turn affect their mood.
  4. Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Children with ODD defy rules, are disrespectful, have temper tantrums, and are often in conflict with people in authority. Argumentative and angry, defy the norm and often get into trouble in school or at home. They are sometimes seen as out of control because parents and teachers give up in dealing with them.
  5. Conduct Disorder (CD). Children with CD can be thoroughly aggressive and destructive towards people, animals and property. They tend to lie, steal, and cheat, and at times, get into conflict with the law. Their family and school can be fraught with neglect, violence, trauma, and persistent learning problems. Usually, they need to see several specialists, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, neurologists, and learning specialists. Such children need comprehensive interventions and consistent care as treatment to get their life on track.

Childhood Depression

Yes, children can be depressed. Childhood depression is an internalized disorder that may include anxiety. This can co-occur with externalizing disorders such as conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, or ADHD. Children between the ages of 7 and 17 are candidates for childhood depression. Symptoms similar to those of adults are the likes of a general sluggishness, difficulty concentrating, inability to experience pleasure, even a loss of interest in playing. Loss of appetite and weight loss are not as grave as seen in adults. Often, temper becomes explosive and aggressive behaviors become alarming.

Feeling of isolation can mark childhood depression, as conflicted or detached relationships among family members is observed from the family history. Some children have separated parents or parents who are in the midst of marital conflict. Negative social interactions and impaired relationships can make children experience feelings of hopelessness and may produce high levels of negative affect.

Parents can sometimes be caught up with their own concerns to notice changes in their children’s behaviors. This is when teachers and relatives can offer help by gently reminding the parents that their children need attention too. Compared to adults, children have less developed coping resources, and thus, need school, peer and extended family support to foster their well-being.

Is My Child Selectively Mute?

Is your child talkative or loud around family, but could not speak in school or around peers and other adults? Has this silence affected their academic performance and their relationships? This is not just extreme shyness. It could be selective mutism, a condition where children fail to speak in selected places or situations, which is not attributable to a communication or language disorder.

Selective mutism occurs as early as preschool. It can last a few months and persist for several years. When children start school, the first day can be rather intimidating. Where shyness may be natural for someone who is being eased into a new environment, persistent silence in a social setting, such as school, needs professional attention. Untreated, children with selective mutism withdraw even further and may stop talking in more situations.
Here are a few things to watch out for if your child may be showing signs of selective mutism:

The 30-day rule. Not limited to the first month of school, if children do not speak in a social setting for at least one month, they may be showing signs of selective mutism.

An inhibited temperament. Also known as a shy temperament, kids with selective mutism often have severely inhibited temperaments. They are prone to anxiety and possess a limited threshold to excitability. They are easily startled and may keep to themselves often as they find gatherings highly stimulating and intimidating.

Alternative modes of communication. Children who cannot verbalize their thoughts due to anxiety may communicate by gestures, short utterances, drawings, puppets, or in a different tone of voice.

Other forms of anxiety. Aside from shyness, children who are prone to anxiety may exhibit the likes of separation anxiety, moodiness, tantrums, inflexibility, fear of social embarrassment, clinging, compulsion, oppositional behavior, and problems with their sleep.

Misbehaviors. In places where children talk, such as at home, they can show irritability, defiance, and temper tantrums. When seen by psychologists at the clinic, these children tend to display aggression and oppositionality, at times refusing the structure of the session. These behaviors can be seen as outlets to express their anxiety.

If your child exhibits signs of selective mutism, remove the pressure or threat to speak. Convey, instead, that you understand their fears and that you will get through this together, especially with the school’s cooperation. At times, mutism may resolve on its own, but often, children need to see a professional.

Confusing Selective Mutism and Autism

When a child has difficulty expressing himself in social situations, is found to have unusual mannerisms, and lacks typical facial expressions, these behaviors are often considered for two types of diagnoses – autism and selective mutism. Where they may be strikingly similar in certain ways, it is important to know that autism and selective mutism differ in many other aspects. How? Read on as we explore the differences between the two.

Where verbal and non-verbal communication, external relations, and flexible thought and behavior are concerned, autism and selective mutism seem to hold symptoms in each of these important aspects of a child’s life. Selectively mute kids are often well-behaved and can participate in school activities while they remain silent. They lack certain facial expressions due to an overwhelming fear that they carry with them, making it difficult to express whatever little they can. The selective mute child, however, can and will absorb information and use this to tell their parents stories when they are in the comforts of their own home.

The difference between selective mutism and autism, however, is the presence of a severe anxiety in the former. The anxiety that comes with selective mutism becomes root cause to the child’s silence; this often hinders growth and progress in social settings.

Both presenting forms of restricted speech, selectively mute children are able to construct sentences and speak in a fluid manner with their family. Children with autism, on the other hand, may have deficits in communicating fluidly. They can repeat certain words and become fixated with certain objects, people or situations. Socially, they are rather awkward, lack understanding of social cues, and do not often take notice of other people. In sum, children with autism appear to be in the world of their own.