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Mental Disorders in Childhood


Several important mental health disorders, such as depression, often develop in childhood. Some disorders, such as autism, develop only in childhood.

With a few exceptions, the symptoms of mental health disorders tend to be similar to feelings that every child experiences, such as sadness, anger, suspicion, excitement, withdrawal, and loneliness. The difference between a disorder and a normal feeling is the extent to which the feeling becomes so powerful as to overwhelm and interfere with the activities of normal life and cause the child to suffer. Because of this, doctors must use a significant degree of judgment to determine when particular thoughts and emotions stop being a normal component of childhood experience and become a disorder.

In children, some disorders affect both mental health and the child's overall development. These are called the pervasive developmental disorders, which include autism, Asperger's disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), Rett's disorder, and childhood disintegrative disorder. The pervasive developmental disorders comprise a group of related conditions that all involve some combination of impaired social relationships, stereotyped or ritualistic behavior, abnormal language development and use, and in some cases, intellectual impairment.

Last full review/revision February 2003

Next: Asperger's Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified

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Autism: Mental Health Disorders: Merck Manual Home Edition

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In This Topic

Autism

Symptoms

Diagnosis

Prognosis and Treatment

Section

Children's Health Issues

Subject

Mental Health Disorders

Topics

Introduction · Asperger's Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified · Autism · Childhood Disintegrative Disorder · Childhood Schizophrenia · Conduct Disorder · Depression · Manic-Depressive Illness · Oppositional Defiant Disorder · Rett's Disorder · Separation Anxiety Disorder · Somatoform Disorders · Suicidal Behavior

Source: The Merck Manual Home Edition