What is wrong with my child?  I don’t know what to do anymore!

The majority of parents who come into my office are at their breaking points.  Their child is acting out at home, school, or, possibly, both and they’ve simply run out of options.  Parents bring their children into my office for a multitude of reasons.  Here are some of the main concerns voiced by parents: increased aggression, temper tantrums, defiance, isolation/withdrawal, poor school performance, problematic sleep patterns, hyperactivity, and stress.

Any of these sound familiar?

If you find the above information to be of interest, be sure to check out my first post in this series, Mental Illness in Children Part 1: Is it Really an “Invisible Epidemic”?.

PLEASE UNDERSTAND… some of the information below may fly high over some heads.  However, I’ve found that ears open wide and eyes stay peeled when it APPEARS as if you know what you’re talking about!!  I only hope this series will empower others to begin doing their own research on mental illness and sharing the knowledge with others!


Making a true diagnosis after a short observation and conversation with a parent is difficult; yet, the diagnosis is extremely important because it defines the next step(s) of intervention.

I consider myself lucky; I usually having approximately 1 hour with the parent to gather information.  Other diagnosing professionals may have even less time than that… that’s where YOU come in!

If you as a parent, guardian, or educator are more able to identify and distinguish between signs/symptoms of some of the most common childhood disorders, then YOU will be more able to provide vital information to the diagnosing provider.

The more information you can provide the better.

Below you’ll find common childhood mental illnesses along with red flags and possible symptoms.  Please remember the information below is general; many others symptoms exist and may appear differently among children.

  1. Anxiety disorders  – According to the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, phobia(s), panic disorder, and separation anxiety fall into this category. Symptoms of an anxiety disorder, go above and beyond the typical day-to-day worry.  Extreme worry and intense fear creates disturbance in activities of daily living and can worsen if not treated.  The National Institute of Mental Health presents the following as symptoms of an anxiety disorder:
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Restlessness
    • Problematic sleep patterns
    • Irritability
    • Sudden attacks of intense fear (panic attacks)
    • Fear of being judged and/or rejected by others
    • Anxiety when around other people
    • Difficulty making friends
    • Worry about losing a particular person(s)
    • Nightmares about separation
  2. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder  – This is one you’ve probably heard of!  ADHD is characterized by inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity.  Symptoms are chronic and interfere with performance at home, work, and/or school.  The Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) lists the following as symptoms of ADHD:
    • Difficulty with organization and completion of tasks
    • Difficulty maintaining attention during tasks and activities
    • Easily distracted
    • Difficulty following through with instructions and completing tasks
    • Dislike and/or avoidance of tasks that require extended mental efforts
    • Blurting out
    • Talking excessively
    • Fidgeting with objects and/or restlessness when seated
    • Inability to remain seated for long periods of time
    • Difficulty engaging in activities quietly
  3. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – Symptoms of ASD usually become evident in childhood and affect communication and social interaction skills. According to the Autism Society, ASD is a “spectrum condition” because of the range of symptoms and degrees of impairment.  Below are red flags to be aware of:
    • Delay in speech or non verbal
    • Difficulty maintaining eye contact
    • Difficulty playing with others; solo and/or parallel play is preferred
    • Difficulty making and/or keeping friends
    • Difficulty with transitioning from one activity to another
    • Tendency to fixate on certain objects or topics
    • Tendency to flap arms, rock, or spin (aka stemming behaviors)
    • Sensitivity to certain sounds and/or textures (clothing tags, sirens, toilet flushing)
    • Difficulty understanding how others feel
    • Echolalia (repetition of words spoken by others)
  4. Eating disorders –  Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are probably the most well-known eating disorders; however, binge-eating, avoidance/restrictive food intake disorder, and pica also fall in this category. Children usually do fairly well at hiding some of these behaviors.  The National Eating Disorders Association recognizes the following as warning signs and/or red flags:
    • Wearing large clothing to cover weight loss
    • Drastic weight loss
    • Preoccupation with weight, calories, dieting, etc.
    • Frequent trips to the bathroom during and/or after meals
    • Evidence of laxatives and/or diuretics
    • Development of dental problems (caused by excessive vomiting)
    • Hoarding food in “secret” places
    • Eating of non-food items
    • Evidence of binge-eating (disappearance of large amounts of food)
    • Over-occupation with body image
  5. Depressive Disorders – Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, major depressive disorder, and persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) fall into this category.  Signs, symptoms, and severity of depressive disorders vary across ages and circumstantial factors.  An article posted by Psychology Today lists the following as signs of a depressive disorder:
    • Decreased energy
    • Feelings of worthlessness/hopelessness
    • Lack of interest in activities once considered to be enjoyable
    • Suicidal thoughts/suicidal attempts
    • Irritability
    • Isolation/withdrawal
    • Alcohol/substance use
    • Decline in school performance
    • Problematic sleep patterns
    • Persistent sadness (throughout the day; majority of days)

Please remember… the information above is not intended for diagnosing purposes but rather to shine light on the differences as well as similarities in symptoms of common childhood disorders.

For sake of this post, I provided only 10 symptoms for each disorder.  As noted above, numerous other signs and symptoms exist and may appear differently from child to child.  Children, also, may have a diagnosis not discussed in this post.

Again, the above signs and symptoms are more than the typical or expected response to a situation.  Symptoms are chronic and cause disturbance in daily activities (i.e. failing grades, inability to go to work/school, etc.).

Early IDENTIFICATION and INTERVENTION can lead to improved outcomes for your child.  Don’t hesitate to seek guidance from your primary care physician or a mental health professional if you have concerns regarding your child’s mental health.

If there is an additional childhood disorder you would like discussed, please comment below and I’ll make sure it’s in an upcoming post.

I’ll be talking about treatment options in the next post.

Stay Tuned…



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