An adjustment disorder is an unhealthy emotional or behavioral reaction to a stressful event or change in a person’s life. The response happens within 3 months of the stressful event. Some events that may lead to this problem in a child or teen are:
Adjustment disorders are a reaction to stress. There is not one direct cause. Children and teens differ in their personalities, past experiences, vulnerability, and coping skills. Where they are in their development and ability to deal with a stressor may also play a part in how they react. Stressors also vary in how long they last, how strong they are, and what effect they have.
Adjustment disorders happen at all ages and are quite common in children and teens. They happen equally in boys and girls. They happen in all cultures. But the stressors and signs may vary based on cultural influences.
Children and teens have different symptoms of an adjustment disorder than adults do. Children tend to have more behavioral symptoms, such as acting out. Adults have more depressive symptoms. Age differences also include how long symptoms last, how strong they are, and what effect they have.
In all adjustment disorders, the reaction to the stressor seems to be more than what is thought to be normal. Or the reaction greatly interferes with how the child functions day to day.
There are 6 subtypes of adjustment disorder. They are based on the type of major symptoms a child may feel. Each child’s symptoms may vary. These are the most common symptoms of each subtype:
Symptoms of an adjustment disorder can look like other health problems or mental illnesses. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
A mental health expert such as a psychiatrist often makes the diagnosis after an evaluation. He or she talks with you, your partner, and your child. He or she will ask for a full history of your child’s development, life events, emotions, behaviors, and the stressful event.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and health. It will also depend on how severe the disorder is.
Treatment may include:
It’s not known how to prevent an adjustment disorder in a child. But spotting it early and getting expert help for your child can ease severe symptoms. Taking these steps can enhance a child’s normal growth and development. It can improve your child’s quality of life.
You can do these things to help your child:
Call your child’s healthcare provider if your child has:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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