Is it just a childhood phase – or could it be a disorder?

Posted on 30 December 2019

Parents play a crucial role in treating early childhood behavioural issues. 

Behavioural disorders involve a pattern of disruptive behaviours in children that lasts for at least six months and causes problems in school, at home and in social situations. As Ronel Groenewald, a counselling psychologist at Mediclinic Kimberley, explains, a behavioural disorder can have a variety of causes and can be traced back to biological, family and school-related factors. “Some biological causes may include: physical illness or disability, malnutrition, brain damage and hereditary factors,” she says. “An unstable home life, unhealthy or inconsistent discipline from the primary caregivers and a poor attitude towards education or schooling that is not addressed by the parents can lead to behavioural problems.”

Some of the signs to keep a lookout for are: Getting easily annoyed or nervous; often appearing angry; blaming others; refusing to follow rules and questioning authority; arguing and throwing temper tantrums; and having difficulty in handling frustration. Although most children will display some or all of these behaviours at certain points, Groenewald explains that diagnosis of any disorder must be done by trained professionals and it will not typically happen for children under the age of five.

“Asperger’s Syndrome (ASD) is a condition on the autism spectrum and children with this condition are generally socially very awkward,” Groenewald says. “They also typically have an all-absorbing interest in specific topics.” ASD is a group of neurodevelopmental conditions that affect the way your child communicates and behaves. A variety of treatments are available, and may include psychological therapy, medication, speech and language therapy, art and music therapy and dietary changes.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a childhood disorder that is defined by a pattern of hostile, disobedient, and defiant behaviours directed at adults or other authority figures. “ODD is also characterised by children displaying angry and irritable moods, as well as argumentative and vindictive behaviours,” Groenewald adds. “Children with ODD will behave badly towards parents, teachers and any person in an authority position. These behavioural patterns must be present and displayed for at least six months before a diagnosis of ODD will be made.”

Treatment for ODD might include medication and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).

Emotional and behavioural problems have a significant impact on your child’s scholastic progress and general functioning. “Many children and adolescents with disruptive behaviours are often misdiagnosed with another disorder such as ADHD because the symptoms are similar,” Groenewald says. “However, if you have the wrong diagnosis, you have the wrong treatment plan.”

An accurate diagnosis helps to establish a prognosis for the patient and the family, and helps to enable communication among the professionals and the medical aid involved in a patient’s care. “The proper diagnosis can bring relief for the parent and caretakers of children with behaviour disorders to understand and treat the child in the appropriate way,” Groenewald adds. “Any behavioural disorder will have a detrimental impact on a person’s sense of belonging in a society. If left untreated, a behavioural disorder may have negative short-term and long-term effects on your child’s personal and professional life.”

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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