Childhood Behaviour and Development

How challenges in learning can affect behaviour in children

Learning challenges can result in behaviour issues in children, causing stress and frustration for the entire family. More than likely, your young child may be experiencing a temporary behaviour and/or emotional problem. Many of these pass with time and require parents to be patient and understanding. However, what truly constitutes as behavioural issues that may require the help of a medical professional?

Children with learning disabilities may exhibit behavioural problems or behaviour disorders, which may contribute to behaviour problems such as emotional outbursts, arguing and throwing temper tantrums, inattention and physical aggression.

Defining early childhood behavioural and emotional disorders

Children may display symptoms of a disorder that could be diagnosed later in childhood. You may have heard of some of these terms. This information aims to guide your current concerns, so that you can seek professional medical opinion and in turn implement early intervention.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is a condition that results in difficulty in staying focused and paying attention, and difficulty controlling behaviour and hyperactivity. This condition can become apparent in the early school years. It is difficult for children with ADHD to control their behaviour and/or pay attention.

Although ADHD is not considered to be a learning disability, children with the condition tend to find learning more challenging.

While ADHD cannot be prevented or cured, spotting it early combined with a good treatment plan can help a child manage their symptoms. Generally, the best treatment for ADHD is a combination of behaviour therapy and medication. For young children, behaviour therapy - particularly training for parents, is recommended as the first line of treatment. Every child is different, so what works best depends on the combination of efforts between the child and the help of family in close monitoring and follow-up therapy sessions.

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)

ODD is a type of behaviour disorder that is usually diagnosed during childhood. Children with ODD are often uncooperative, angry, defiant, or hostile towards their parents, peers and authoritative figures.

ODD can be treated by combining behavioural therapy and medication. Parents can play a big role during treatment to build the parent-child relationship.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

ASD is a type of disorder that involves challenges in social interaction, communication and behaviour. Children with autism might have repetitive behaviours, or resist change in their daily activities. Children with ASD have different ways of learning, paying attention, and reacting compared to other children.

ASD can be tricky to diagnose as there is currently no single medical or blood test that can diagnose ASD. Doctors look at the child’s behaviour and development to make a diagnosis in conjunction with a psychologist assessment. There is currently no cure for ASD. However, research shows that early intervention treatment services can improve a child’s development and outcome. Thus, it is crucial to seek medical consultation if you think your child has ASD or other developmental problems.

Anxiety & Depression

Children have fears and worries, and they may deal with difficult feelings during their developmental years. For example, toddlers are often very distressed about being away from their parents, even if they are safe and cared for. It is normal for children to feel fear and worry from time to time, but persistent or extreme forms of fear and sadness could be due to anxiety or depression.

Anxiety symptoms include trouble sleeping, fatigue, and other non-specific symptoms like headaches or tummy ache. Some troubled children keep to themselves and thus, extra care and attention must be dedicated to them. Some children may not talk about their hopeless thoughts, and may not appear sad. Depression might cause a child to be unmotivated and often misunderstood as a troublemaker.

The first step is to get a thorough evaluation for your child so the healthcare professional can determine the most suitable treatment for your child.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings – emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). It is most often diagnosed in older children or teenagers, but can be diagnosed at any age.

Children with bipolar disorder experience symptoms differently. Some people face episodic mood swings while others have minimal symptoms. They may face challenges in everyday life tasks at school, work or maintaining friendships.

Although bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, symptoms can be managed with proper treatment. In most cases, it can be treated with medications and psychological counselling.

Learning disorders

Children with learning disorders or learning disabilities face struggles in school, affecting their self-esteem and motivation. Learning disorder is an information-processing problem that prevents a person from learning a skill and using it effectively. Common learning disorders affect a child's abilities in reading, writing, math or nonverbal skills.

A child's teacher, parents or guardian, doctor, or other professionals can request an evaluation if there are concerns about learning problems.

Conduct disorders (CD)

CD is diagnosed when children show a consistent pattern of aggressive behaviour toward others, violating rules and social norms at home, in school and with friends. Children with CD are more susceptible to physical injuries and may face challenges in social environments.

Early treatment is essential in controlling the aggression in children right from the start. For school-age children and teenagers, an often-used effective treatment is a combination of training and therapy that involves the help of the child’s family and school.


Be patient with your children

Parents can adopt empathy, calmness, and kindness to help their children with their struggles. Knowing when to seek help is crucial too.

If your child’s behaviour becomes violent or disruptive to the daily routine of their lives, it is time to seek professional help.

While many behavioural disorders cannot be cured, proper treatment can help to effectively manage these conditions, allowing these individuals to live life smoothly.

This article was written by Dr David Ng, Paediatrician, Raffles Children’s Centre

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