A behavioural disorder is not like a short illness that has noticeable symptoms and can be easily diagnosed with a laboratory test or two. On the contrary a behavioural disorder is an underlying condition that generates a whole range of challenging behaviours, but each child affected by a behavioural disorder does not necessarily engage in the same behaviours or engage in the same behaviours in the same way. These differences make the identification of a behavioural disorder a challenge, one that should be left up to a qualified mental health professional to correctly diagnose and treat.
Identifying a Behavioural Disorder
For parents, identifying a behavioural disorder really means identifying challenging and inappropriate behaviours that their child engages in. Many parents feel uncomfortable with this role of observer and this is only natural. After all, every child engages in naughty behaviour every now and then and it can be very hard to differentiate between natural aggression and aggressive behaviours that go too far. The good news is that making this differentiation is the job of a trained professional, not a parent. If parents are concerned that their child is acting inappropriately, or acting inappropriately too often, then they should begin to track these behaviours and visit their GP, their child’s teacher or counsellor or a private counsellor or therapist. Behaviours to look out for in children include:
- Losing their tempers or engaging in temper tantrums.
- Blatantly disobeying and disregarding household or classroom rules.
- Knowingly attempting to irritate or annoy others.
- Knowingly attempting to steal or destroy property.
- Blaming others for their own failures or shortcomings.
- Running away from home.
- Playing truant from school.
- Assaulting others, either physically or sexually.
- Bullying, both physical and emotionally/mentally.
- General anger that doesn’t seem to go away.
Diagnosing a Behavioural Disorder
Again, only trained professionals can diagnose a behavioural disorder and a diagnosis will depend not simply on the behaviours that the child engages in but also on how often a child engages in challenging behaviour (consistency of the behaviour, particularly in the last year) and how extreme the challenging behaviour is (the intensity of the behaviour). The child’s age will also be taken into account since behavioural disorders depend in part upon the challenging behaviour being inappropriate for the age of the child.
If a clinical diagnosis is made, the professional will then devise a method, or combination of methods, to treat the disorder. Medicines, therapies and behaviour modification techniques are all used to treat behavioural disorders, but regardless of what a specialist prescribes it is important that the child’s whole family remains loving and supportive. Children with behavioural disorders often feel poorly enough about themselves and their behaviours that having a block of support behind them is crucial to the success of the treatment.
Identifying and diagnosing behavioural disorders can be a long, confusing and sometimes painful process. Parents should understand that it is not their job to diagnose or “fix” a child with a behavioural disorder, but rather to love and support their child enough to involve professionals who can make a diagnosis and design a specific type of treatment.