An adjustment disorder is defined as an emotional or behavioral reaction to an identifiable stressful event or change in a person's life that is considered maladaptive or somehow not an expected healthy response to the event or change. The reaction must occur within three months of the identified stressful event or change happening. The identifiable stressful event or change in the life of a child or adolescent may be a family move, parental divorce or separation, the loss of a pet, birth of a brother or sister, to name a few.
Adjustment disorders are a reaction to stress. There is not a single direct cause between the stressful event and the reaction. Children and adolescents vary in their temperament, past experiences, vulnerability, and coping skills. Their developmental stage and the capacity of their support system to meet their specific needs related to the stress are factors that may contribute to their reaction to a particular stress. Stressors also vary in duration, intensity, and effect. No evidence is available to suggest a specific biological factor that causes adjustment disorders.
Adjustment disorders are quite common in children and adolescents. They occur equally in males and females. While adjustment disorders occur in all cultures, the stressors and the signs may vary based on cultural influences. Adjustment disorders occur at all ages, however, it is believed that characteristics of the disorder are different in children and adolescents than they are in adults. Differences are noted in the symptoms experienced, severity and duration of symptoms, and in the outcome. Adolescent symptoms of adjustment disorders are more behavioral such as acting out, while adults experience more depressive symptoms.
In all adjustment disorders, the reaction to the stressor seems to be in excess of a normal reaction, or the reaction significantly interferes with social, occupational, or educational functioning. There are six subtypes of adjustment disorder that are based on the type of the major symptoms experienced. The following are the most common symptoms of each of the subtypes of adjustment disorder. However, each adolescent may experience symptoms differently.
The symptoms of adjustment disorders may resemble other medical problems or psychiatric conditions. Always consult your adolescent's physician for a diagnosis.
A child and adolescent psychiatrist or a qualified mental health professional usually makes the diagnosis of an adjustment disorder in children and adolescents following a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation and interview with the child or adolescent and the parents. A detailed personal history of development, life events, emotions, behaviors, and the identified stressful event is obtained during the interview.
Specific treatment for adjustment disorders will be determined by your adolescent's health care provider based on:
Treatment may include:
Preventive measures to reduce the incidence of adjustment disorders in adolescents are not known at this time. However, early detection and intervention can reduce the severity of symptoms, enhance the adolescent's normal growth and development, and improve the quality of life experienced by children or adolescents with adjustment disorders.
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Online Resources of Adolescent Medicine