Facing mental illness in a child is a heartbreaking proposition for any parent, but modern medicine has made it easier to both recognize and treat conditions before they become unmanageable.
Although many illnesses cannot be diagnosed before adulthood, some manifest exclusively during childhood.
These are five of the most common mental illnesses in children, based on prevalence and severity.
Attention Deficit Disorder
Attention deficit disorder has received plenty of attention over the past decade, and there are many misconceptions floating around about it.
Usually, the first sign of ADD or ADHD is a child who struggles to sit still and concentrate in class. ADD is limited to a short attention span and easy distraction, while ADHD adds the element of hyperactivity.
To some extent, every little kid has bad days, but when it becomes a common, disruptive behavior intervention is advisable. Treatment involves medication, and the disorder becomes more manageable with maturity.
It is normal for children to react to certain situations with fear, but in some cases a traumatic event or persistent nervousness turns into a more serious condition. Anxiety disorders are marked by sweating, rapid heartbeat, unpredictable moods and poor performance in school.
Anxiety may manifest as phobias or as a pervasive dread, and affected children often seek quiet isolation. Concerned parents who have noticed a drastic change in behavior should seek professional help, as the problem can be alleviated with therapy and medication.
Tourette Syndrome, like ADD, is the frequent butt of jokes but far more serious for those who have to live with it. It and other tic disorders are not hard to identify, as they result in noticeable physical quirks that the child cannot control.
These may be vocalizations, gestures or a combination of both, and they are involuntary. The frequency of the tics depends on the individual, but they tend to diminish as the child grows older and medication may reduce symptoms.
The Autism Spectrum
Autism is the most well-known developmental illness, but it is part of a wider range of conditions of varying symptoms and severity.
Autism is a neural disorder where the child fails to develop communication skills and processes information in a fundamentally different way than his or her peers. It appears very early, before the child is three years old, and is recognizable by poor sociability, minimal conversation and precocious organizational tendencies.
Aspergers Syndrome shows similar symptoms with better language development.
Because illnesses on the autism spectrum shape the growth of the brain, there is no cure. Therapy helps show affected children how to succeed in society, and there are now support groups for like-minded individuals to find a sense of community.
Schizophrenia usually appears in a person’s twenties, though it occasionally shows up in teenagers and middle-school children. In these cases, it is called pediatric schizophrenia.
Like older victims, pediatric schizophrenics experience hallucinations, strange impulses and paranoid thoughts, as well as a lack of motivation and shallow emotions. Because of their innocence, the “voices” many schizophrenics report are particularly influential in children.
Diagnosing early schizophrenia is critical for managing the condition and giving the child a chance at a somewhat normal life. Medication combined with therapy is the best option, and with the right handling a child can control his or her symptoms.