Adaptive disorder in children and adolescents: what it is, symptoms and types

When an adult goes through a major change in their life, they are expected to adapt and move on with their lives after going through a period of adjustment. It is the same for children and adolescents undergoing significant changes in their lives: They are expected to adapt appropriately.

However, just as some adults may have difficulty adjusting to the new circumstances, children and adolescents may also have difficulty adjusting to the new changes.

In this article we will talk about adjustment disorder in children and adolescents. First, we’ll look at what adaptive disorder is, what the symptoms are, and finally, the subtypes.

    What is Child and Adolescent Adjustment Disorder?

    An adjustment disorder is an unhealthy emotional or behavioral reaction to a stressful event or change in a person’s life. The response occurs within three months of the stressful event.

    Some events that can cause this problem in a child or adolescent are:

    • A movement
    • Change school or institute
    • Death of one or both parents, siblings, grandfather or other important person for the child or adolescent
    • Divorce or separation of parents
    • Pet death
    • Birth of a new brother or sister
    • Sudden illness in the child or family member
    • A chronic illness in the child or in a family member

    The Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) describes adjustment disorder as “the presence of emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to an identifiable stressor that occurs within three months of onset. stressor. »Exposure to one or more stressors, the following criteria must be present:

    • The anxiety felt is greater than expected in response to the stressor.
    • Symptoms should be clinically significant.
    • Anxiety and disability are related to the stressor and are not an escalation of an existing mental health disorder or part of normal grief.

      Symptoms of adjustment disorder

      Adjustment disorder affects many children and adolescents, therefore it is important to identify the symptoms of this disorder and to help the child or adolescent who has it. Only then can you receive the most appropriate treatment.

      It is important to note that children and adolescents tend to have different symptoms than adults. The main difference is that children and adolescents tend to have more symptoms that affect easily observable behavior, like bad behavior. Adults, on the other hand, have more depressive symptoms.

      Symptoms of adjustment disorder can include intense anxiety, decreased self-esteem, impaired coping skills, irritability, fights with peers, isolation from family and friends, and a tendency to miss school or high school, among others.

      In the same way, children with adjustment disorder may have trouble sleeping or recurring episodes of crying. They may also experience episodes of anxiety or depression.

      In contrast, adolescents with an adjustment disorder are more likely to develop chronic depression and anxiety. Many teens use drugs or alcohol to cope with stress or anxiety. However, regular use of this type of substance can mask a mental health problem that needs to be treated.

      In addition, adjustment disorder disrupts the person’s daily functioning, that is to say the child or adolescent cannot function properly in any area of ​​their life (school, social, family, etc.). At this point, it is important to note that each child and adolescent may experience symptoms differently, which is why the help of a mental health professional will be essential in making a proper diagnosis.

        Types of adjustment disorders

        There are six different subtypes of adjustment disorder. Each of the subtypes is based on the main symptoms experienced. Here are the subtypes, along with the most common symptoms of each:

        • Adaptive Disorder with Depressed Mood: The child or adolescent feels depressed, cries often, and expresses feelings of hopelessness.
        • Adaptive Anxiety Disorder: Symptoms may include nervousness, worry, and fear of separating from major hooked figures.
        • Adaptive disorder with anxiety and depressed mood: combination of symptoms of the two previous subtypes (depressed mood and anxiety).
        • Adaptive Disorder with Behavioral Alteration: Symptoms include violation of the rights of others and violation of social norms and rules.
        • Adjustment disorder with mixed changes in emotions and behavior: the child or adolescent has a combination of symptoms of all of the above subtypes i.e. depressed mood, anxiety disorders and behavioral.
        • Adaptive Disorder Not Specified: The child has reactions to stressful events that do not match any of the above subtypes. These can include behaviors such as social withdrawal.

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        As we have seen throughout the article, the consequences of adjustment disorders in children and adolescents are serious. For that, it is important to pay attention to how children and adolescents cope (or not) to stressful events.

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