Behavioral Disorders and the Brain

Signs of a Behavioral DisorderHave you noticed worrisome behaviors in your child that seem extreme and outside the norm? How do you know if your child is acting out due to a temporary stressor, or if they are developing a behavioral disorder? Once you begin to notice either emotional or behavioral issues, the first question you may ask yourself is — is this behavior typical?

What is Typical Behavior?

As children grow, they express some challenging behaviors. In many cases, these are normal changes that allow a child to develop their own identity. When making a decision whether or not to seek professional assistance, review these three factors:

  1. Duration: How long has your child’s behavior been going on? Do they not appear to be growing out of the behavior(s) in question?
  2. Intensity: As you know from the terrible twos, temper tantrums are part of growing up. With that being said, intense emotions and behaviors that are frightening require closer attention.
  3. Age: Each child develops at a different pace, but you need to be mindful of emotional and behavioral milestones.

As expressed in Rutter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, based on the instability of problem behaviors in early childhood, many children showcase co-occurring issues. In fact, approximately one-third of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also live with coexisting oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and up to a quarter have coexisting conduct disorder (CD). All three disorders are, however, separate conditions and can occur independently.

Signs of a Behavioral Disorder

The following five signs may mean your child is suffering from a behavioral disorder. These are meant to guide your current concerns, so that you can seek a professional opinion and in turn, implement early intervention.

  1. Being Defiant: Although there’s a wide range of possible explanations, the most common disruptive behavior disorders include CD, ODD and ADHD. Often, these disorders showcase overlapping symptoms, and refusal to obey authority figures is often apparent within cases of CD and ODD.
  2. Inattention: All kids struggle to focus from time to time, especially when they’re disinterested. If, however, you notice that your child struggles to concentrate, or they continually move from one task to another without completing any, this may be a sign of ADHD. You may also notice impulsivity and overactivity.
  3. Physical Aggression: From tantrums to negative interactions with other children, physical aggression is most certainly a behavior that needs to be addressed. For those with CD, for instance, this can evolve into the hurting of animals. Overall, you may notice an increase in fighting, destructiveness and disobedience.
  4. Blaming Others: When your child misbehaves, are they quick to blame others? It’s normal for children to want to avoid getting in trouble, but this will be much more noticeable. What you’re looking for here is a consistent lack of responsibility and a refusal to own up to their own mistakes.
  5. Antisocial Behavior: Boys with CD, in particular, tend to exhibit antisocial behavior. More often than not, severe antisocial behavior in early childhood leads to a diagnosis of CD or ODD. You will notice repeated violations of social rules, which will also tie into defiance of authority and disregard for others.

Before you seek a professional opinion, write everything down. What triggers problematic behaviors? Also, speak with your child’s teacher to better understand their behavior at school.

Behavior and the Brain

New advances in evaluative capabilities and diagnostic imaging show striking similarities in the brains of children with condition like autism, ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome and behavioral disorders like conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder. We can now see that virtually all of the conditions that adversely affect behavior and learning are actually related to one problem – an imbalance of electrical activity between areas of the brain, especially the right and left hemispheres of the brain. There is even a name for it: Functional Disconnection Syndrome (FDS).

Children with Functional Disconnection Syndrome (FDS) behave the way they do because the area of their brain that controls behavior is underdeveloped. This is the reasoning part of the brain. It’s why you can’t reason with a small child because this part of the brain has yet to develop. It is also why behavioral modification programs most often do not work. A child cannot learn a behavior that he or she really doesn’t understand. The type of behavior your child exhibits, will determine which side of the brain is affected. The following are common behaviors that indicate that your child may have either a left or right brain deficiency:

Right Brain Deficiency

  • Has difficulty modeling someone else’s behavior, but can do as told.
  • Engages in risky activities.
  • Gets stuck in a set behavior; can’t let go.
  • Is hyperactive and/or impulsive.
  • Argues all the time and is generally uncooperative.
  • Acts inappropriately giddy or silly.

Left Brain Deficiency

  • Does not have any behavioral problems at school.
  • Doesn’t like to go to sleepovers.
  • Not good at following routines.
  • Self-conscious; feels he is being made fun of by others.
  • Difficult to motivate at times.
  • Generally very easy going attitude.

For more information about Functional Disconnection Syndrome, behavior and the brain as well as my complete Behavior Assessment Checklist, please check out my book “Disconnected Kids.”

As the great Frederick Douglass once said, “It’s easier to build strong children, than to repair a broken adult.” In this spirit of his quote, it’s important to identify potential behavioral abnormalities early and take the steps necessary to resolve any issues before they become life long struggles. Disconnected Kids can become Reconnected Kids!