Conduct disorder is a repetitive and persistent pattern of behavior in children and adolescents in which the rights of others or basic social rules are violated. The child or adolescent usually exhibits these behavior patterns in a variety of settings – at home, at school, and in social situations – and they cause significant impairment in his or her social, academic and family functioning.
Behaviors characteristic of conduct disorder include: aggressive behaviors that causes or threatens harm to other people or animals, such as bullying or intimidating others, often initiating physical fights, or being physically cruel to animals; non- aggressive conduct that causes property loss or damage, such as fire setting or deliberate destruction of other’s property; deceitfulness, or theft, such as breaking into someone’s house or car, or lying or “conning” others; serious rule violations, such as staying out at night when prohibited, running away from home overnight, or being truant from school.
Many youth with conduct disorder may have trouble feeling and expressing empathy or remorse and reading social cues. These youth often misinterpret the actions of other as being hostile or aggressive and respond by escalating the situation in to conflict. Conduct disorder may also be associated with other difficulties such as substance use, risk-taking behavior, school problems, and physical injury from accidents and fights.
Conduct disorder is more common among boys than girls, with studies indicating that the rate among boys in general population ranges from 6% to 16% while the rate among girls ranges from 2% to 9%. Conduct disorder can have its onset early, before age 10, or in adolescence. Children who display early on-set conduct disorder are greater risk for persistent difficulties. However, they are also more likely to have troubles peer relationships and academic problems. Among both boys and girls, conduct disorder is one the disorders most frequently diagnosed in mental health settings.
Research has shown that most children and adolescents with conduct disorder do not grow up to have behavioral problems or problems with the law as adults, most of these youth do well as adults, both socially and occupationally. Conduct disorder has both genetic and environmental components. The disorder is more common among the children of adults who themselves exhibit conduct problems when they were young, there are many other factors which researchers believe contribute top development of the disorder. For example, youth with conduct disorder appear to have deficits in processing social information or social cues, and some may have been rejected by peers as young children.
Several recent reviews of the literature have identified promising approaches treating children and adolescents with the disorder. The most successful approaches intervene as early as possible, are structured and intensive, and address the multiple contexts in which children exhibit problem behavior, including the family, school and community. Examples of effective treatment approaches include functional family therapy, multi-systemic therapy, and cognitive behavioral approaches which focus on building skill such as anger management. Pharmacological intervention alone is not sufficient for the treatment of the disorder.
Assessment and diagnosis should be done by a mental health professional, preferably by one who has been trained in children’s mental health. The assessment process should include observation of the child, discussion with the child and family, the use of standard instruments or structured diagnostic interviews, and taking a complete family/social history.
Explore the treatment options. Treatment must be individualized to meet the needs of each child and should be family-centered and developmentally and culturally appropriate. Find a family support group or organization in your community.
For more information visit www.mentalhealthamerica.net.