Childhood Disorders

Abnormal Psychology Lecture Notes

Childhood Disorders

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There are different mental disorders of childhood. Children can become depressed, anxious, and even psychotic during this period of the life span. It is a sad fact but true. In this unit we will discuss many of the different childhood disorders. Two of the most diagnosed disorders are ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder. We will begin with a discussion of these two disorders.

Reading #1 and Reading #2

Let’s start with one that I’m sure you have heard about. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) This disorder involves 3 major symptoms:

  1. a) Inattention—Children cannot focus their attention on particular aspects of their environment for long periods of time (e.g., listening to the teacher). They are easily distracted by irrelevant stimuli, and may jump from activity to activity.
  2. b) Impulsivity-Children with ADHD evidence impulsive actions in which they behave before they think (e.g., darting out of a car as soon as mom opens the door).
  3. c) Hyperactivity—These children are always on the go. They fidget, require little sleep, and display excessive amounts of energy.

Now, one of the primary treatments for this disorder is pharmacological. You have likely heard of the drug Ritalin, a commonly prescribed medicine for this disorder. Two other drugs you may have heard of are Adderall and Cylert. Drug treatment for children is not without its concerns as there can be side effects (e.g., stunted growth, insomnia).

Please watch this video:

Reading #2

Autism Spectrum Disorder-The symptoms of this disorder run along a spectrum, from mild to severe. Thus, children diagnosed with this disorder manifest differing levels of symptoms and the need for help/intervention. This disorder is characterized by deficits in communication and social interaction. Here are some specific symptoms:

1) Eye Contact-Those with this disorder may fail to establish eye contact in social interactions.

2) Perseveration-This involves repeating some phrase over and over again.

3) Pronomial Reversal-This involves the incorrect use of a pronoun. For instance, A child with Autism might state: “You want Milk.” What they actually meant was that they are the one who wants milk.

4) Echolalia-This involves repeating what someone else has just said. For instance, if one were to say: “Hi Billy” the child would with Autism would respond: “Hi Billy.”

5) Echopraxia-This involves mimicking what another person has done (e.g., scratching one’s nose after seeing someone else scratch their nose).

Other behaviors commonly seen include;

  1. a) Stereotyped or Repetitive Actions-Some individuals engage in these types of behaviors over and over again (e.g., spinning a toy on the floor for hours).
  2. b) Need For Order or Sameness-Routines might be important for some with this disorder and they may become upset if not followed.

The intellectual level of those with this disorder may vary, depending on the severity of the illness.

***There is a link to an informative video on page 3 of Reading #2. Click the word video that is highlighted in blue.

Here is a video that demonstrates the symptoms of Autism in a family in which the children all have the disorder.

Disruptive Behavior Disorders

Oppositional-Defiant Disorder-This is a kid who is not a happy camper!

Look at the terms—They oppose others and they defy. They argue with adults. Kids with this behavior disorder get mad easily. They can be mean, spiteful, and vindictive. Whoa!! This child may get into trouble, but never believes that he/she is wrong, always blaming others for their misdeeds.

Here is the link to a good overview of this disorder and its diagnosis and treatment:

Here is the link to a brief informative video on this disorder:

Conduct Disorder

Int his disorder we see children and teens who exhibit Antisocial or criminal type behavior. These kids will lie, steal, vandalize, set fires, use drugs, skip school, and harm animals. This is a very serious disorder that needs intervention. Otherwise, if the symptoms have not remitted by the age of 18 the diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder will likely be given. Many of these children end up spending time in juvenile detention centers.

Here is the link to a good article highlighting the symptoms, causes, and treatment of this disorder.


Attachment Disorders

1) Separation Anxiety Disorder-Children with this disorder have tremendous fears that something bad will happen to a parent when they are not together. They may have a difficult time sleeping alone, attending school, or staying at a friend’s home. In essence, they have “over-bonded.” They may manifest physical symptoms (e.g., tummy aches) to avoid school. Parents who give into their demands to cling only serve to reinforce and thereby prolong the behavior.

2) Reactive Attachment Disorder-In this disorder children will have significant problems bonding with others. They will rarely seek out an adult for comfort when upset and may resist the affection others. This disorder is typically caused by a failure of bonding at an early age possibly due to repeated changes in caregiver, abuse and or neglect of the child’s needs.

Childhood Schizophrenia

You learned about the different symptoms of schizophrenia in Unit #2. Sadly, there are children who develop this illness. The prognosis for those diagnosed at a young age is not good, as many go on to experience this illness into their adult years.

Here is a short video that highlights a child with this illness:

Intellectual Disability

Intelligence (IQ)

IQ means “Intelligence Quotient.” It is a number that is derived from a standardized intelligence test and indicates one’s level of intelligence. Below you will see a normal or bell curve depicting how IQ or any other measured trait (e.g., adult height) is distributed in the population. Down the center of any normal curve is the average. So, in this case the average IQ score is 100. As you deviate to the right of the average the IQ scores increase. Similarly, as you deviate to the left the IQ scores decrease. Notice that most people (34.1% + 34.1% = 68.2%) have an IQ score between 85 and 115.

Also notice that as you deviate away from 100 (in either direction) the percentages decrease. For instance, only about 2% of the population has an IQ score of 130 and above. An IQ score of 130 is considered to be “superior” intelligence.

The same is true on the opposite side. An IQ below 70 or 75 begins what is termed Intellectual Disability. Those with this IQ level account for about 2% of the population.

In order to be diagnosed with Intellectual Disability one must manifest deficits in IQ level and adaptive functioning (e.g., appropriate social interactions, self-care).

The are 4 degrees of Intellectual Disability (Mild, Moderate, Severe, and Profound). Most persons diagnosed with Intellectual Disability fall within the mild range.

Here is the link to a document (see page 3) that has a chart describing the 4 degrees of Intellectual Disability:


There are multiple causes of Intellectual Disability. This disorder can result from genetic issues such as Down Syndrome, whereby an extra chromosome appears on the 21st pair. Another cause that has received much attention is prenatal exposure to alcohol. Those whose mothers drank during pregnancy may be born with a disorder known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The symptoms of this disorder may include intellectual disability and hyperactivity.

Watch this informative video on this syndrome:






Learning Disorders (Disabilities)

There are different types of Leaning Disorders (LD).

1) Dyslexia-This is known as Reading Disorder. Those with this disorder have difficulty with reading. They may reverse letters (e.g., confusing the letter b and d), or read words backwards (saw and was).

2) Dysgraphia-This is known as Writing Disorder. The issue here is problems producing legible handwriting,

3) Dyscalculia-This is known as Math Disorder. This disorder involves issues with mastering the use of mathematical concepts.

Now, the issue with LD is not one of intelligence. To be diagnosed with an LD one must demonstrate at least an average IQ. The disability part stems from the fact that they have the intellect but are falling short in one of these areas.

See page 3 of this document for a discussion of LD’s.


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