Adjustment Disorders in Children

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Adjustment disorder is an unusually intense or prolonged emotional or behavioral reaction to a stressful life event. These could include events like: 

  • Parental divorce
  • Death of family member, friend, or pet
  • Birth of a new sibling 
  • Moving to a new home 

The response occurs within 3 months of the event. It can be out of proportion to the situation or greatly interfering with the child’s daily life.

How Adjustment Disorder Appears in Children

Adjustment disorder is common in children and can happen at all ages. There is no clear cause. All children develop differently and cope with stressors differently at various stages of their development.

Adjustment disorder in children and teens appears differently than it does in adults. Children tend to have more behavioral symptoms, whereas adults tend to exhibit more depressive symptoms.

Subtypes & Symptoms

There are six subtypes of adjustment disorder based on the type of major symptoms a child may feel:

  • Adjustment disorder with depressed mood
  • Adjustment disorder with anxiety
  • Adjustment disorder with anxiety and depressed mood (includes a mix of symptoms from the previous two subtypes)
  • Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct (includes behavioral symptoms, such as recklessness, rebellion against social norms and rules, fighting, etc.)
  • Adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct (includes a mix of emotional and behavioral symptoms)
  • Adjustment disorder unspecified (behaviors do not align with the above descriptions)

Diagnosis & Treatment of Adjustment Disorders

Treatment varies depending on your child’s symptoms, age and the severity of the condition.

Treatment options may include:

  • Psychotherapy, to help your child learn skills to problem-solve, communicate, manage stress and emotions
  • Family therapy, to help the family as a whole communicate
  • Peer group therapy, to help your child develop social and interpersonal skills
  • Medications