What is a behavioural disorder?Behaviour problems are among the most common reasons why children and adolescents are referred to mental health clinicians. Many children have difficulty with regulating their behaviour and self-control, which does not necessarily equate to a behaviour 'disorder'. Infrequent defiance, impulsivity, tantrums, aggression and disruptiveness are typical for many, if not most kids.
The range, severity, frequency and impact of a child's behaviour determines whether it is considered maladaptive or not. More pervasive behavioural disorders may be expressed as persistent defiance, anger, aggression, and/or other anti-social behaviours (eg. physical violence and destructiveness).
The most common diagnoses given to young people with behavioural concerns are Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and Conduct Disorder (CD). Children and Adolescents with these conditions tend to cause significant disruptions at home and school, which ultimately impacts their own wellbeing.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
ODD is marked by a persistent pattern of anger and non-compliant behaviour. These kids seem to have a "problem with authority" and a general lack of respect for caregivers and/or other adults. Children with ODD may seem frustrated at the world and express this through active defiance, blame and in some cases, spitefulness.
These behaviours may be considered 'disordered' when they have been occurring frequently over an extended period of time (longer than 6 months), and cause significant distress to the child or others in the immediate environment.
ODD may co-occur with ADHD, anxiety and mood disorders.
Signs and symptoms of ODD:
- Often angry/irritable
- Easily annoyed
- Frequently argues with adults
- Actively defies rules and requests
- Blames others for own mistakes
- Can be spiteful or vindictive
Conduct Disorder (CD)
CD is term used to categorise children who exhibit serious anti-social behaviours. These kids behave in ways that violate the basic rights of other people and/or animals, or substantially deviate from societal norms and rules.
Physical and verbal aggression, abuse, cruelty to animals, destruction of property, stealing, lying, cheating, skipping school and running away from home are all behaviours you might observe from a child with CD.
Children may show disregard for other's feelings, lack of remorse for their actions and/or use their own emotions to manipulate others.
Signs and symptoms of CD:
- Often bullies or intimidates others
- Initiates physical fights
- Shows cruelty to people or animals
- Deliberately damages others' property
- Lies or manipulates to get own way
- Engages in criminal activity
Purpose of AssessmentA psychological assessment of behaviour helps caregivers to better understand what might be going on for their child. Problematic behaviour may be connected to social, emotional, school, parenting, cognitive and/or personality factors. A psychologist is often best-placed to explore this range of issues and uncover what is causing your child concern.
Post-assessment, you will receive a psychological report with a detailed explanation of your child's problem areas, contributing factors and effective support solutions. Caregivers are also guided towards additional resources and services.
For more information about childhood behaviour problems, visit the Better Health Channel and Kids Matter websites
Getting a diagnosis
Children must be evaluated by either a paediatrician, psychiatrist or psychologist to receive a formal diagnosis of ODD or CD. Psychological assessments are the usually the most valid and reliable way to determine whether a diagnosis is appropriate or not.
Find out more about getting a diagnosis here.