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Adjustment Disorders in Children

What is an adjustment disorder?

An adjustment disorder is an emotional or behavioral reaction to a stressful event or change in a person’s life. Adjustment disorders are quite common in children and teens. The reaction is considered an unhealthy or excessive response to the event or change within three months of it happening. The event can be anything important to the child, such as a death in the family or moving to a new house or school. Children can show signs of anxiety, depression, or behavior problems. 

Causes and symptoms of adjustment disorder

Every child can vary where they are in their development. The ability to deal with specific needs related to stress depends on age and maturity. Adjustment disorders are a reaction to excessive stress and there is typically just not one direct cause. Some common signs of an adjustment disorder include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Crying a lot
  • Avoiding school, family and friends
  • Fighting
  • Anger

Adjustment disorders can also happen at any age. 

Diagnosing adjustment disorders in children

A mental health expert such as a psychiatrist often makes the diagnosis after an evaluation. They will ask for a full history of your child’s development, life events, emotions, behaviors, school performance, and the stressful event. The child's symptoms must be worse than would normally be expected with this life change. If your child's symptoms don't get better after six months there may be another reason. 

Treating adjustment disorders

Specific treatment for adjustment disorders will be decided by your adolescent’s health care provider. Different therapies can help children express their emotions and learn to control upsetting feelings. Treatment may include:

  • Individual psychotherapy using cognitive-behavioral approaches
  • Family therapy
  • Peer group therapy
  • Medicine

What are the risk factors for developing other disorders?

Preventive measures to reduce adjustment disorders in adolescents are not known at this time. Early detection is important since children with untreated adjustment disorders are at more risk for developing depression, chronic anxiety, and substance abuse problems in adolescents.