Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder is the most serious psychiatric / behavioral disorder in childhood and adolescence.

Conduct disorderConduct disorder is a more severe form of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) ― it is the childhood equivalent of antisocial personality disorder.

Those with this disorder have great difficulty following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way. They are often viewed by other children, adults and social agencies as “bad” or delinquent, rather than mentally ill.

Children or adolescents with conduct disorder may exhibit aggression to people and animals, destruction of property, deceitful behavior, lying, stealing, and serious violation of rules.

Aggression and violence to people and animals

  • bullies, threatens or intimidates others
  • often initiates physical fights
  • has used a weapon that could cause serious physical harm to others (e.g., a bat, brick, broken bottle, knife, gun)
  • is physically cruel to people and/or animals
  • steals from a victim while confronting them (e.g. assault)
  • forces someone into sexual activity

Destruction of property

  • deliberately engages in firesetting with the intention to cause damage
  • deliberately destroys other’s property

Deceitfulness, lying, or stealing

  • has broken into someone else’s building, house, or car
  • lies to obtain goods, or favors or to avoid obligations
  • steals items without confronting a victim (e.g. shoplifting, but without breaking and entering)

Serious violations of rules

  • often stays out at night despite parental objections
  • runs away from home
  • often truant from school

Children with conduct disorder may also experience:

  • Higher rates of depressionsuicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and suicide
  • Academic difficulties
  • Poor relationships with peers or adults
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Difficulty staying in adoptive, foster, or group homes
  • Higher rates of injuries, school expulsions, and problems with the law

Children who exhibit these behaviors should receive a comprehensive evaluation.  Many children with a conduct disorder may have coexisting conditions such as mood disorders, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, ADHD, and learning problems.

Research shows that young people with conduct disorder are likely to have ongoing problems if they and their families do not receive early and comprehensive treatment.  Without treatment, many young people with conduct disorder are unable to adapt to the demands of adulthood and continue to have problems with relationships and holding a job. They often break laws or behave in an antisocial manner.

Many factors may contribute to a child developing conduct disorder, including brain damage, child abuse, genetic vulnerability, school failure, and traumatic life experiences. Other factors that may make a child more likely to develop conduct disorder include early maternal rejection and/or separation from parents, parental mental illness, and family violence.

Treatment of children with conduct disorder can be complex and challenging.  Treatment can be provided in a variety of different settings depending on the severity of the behaviors.

Adding to the challenge of treatment are the child’s uncooperative attitude, fear and distrust of adults.  In developing a comprehensive treatment plan, a child and adolescent mental health professional may use information from the child, family, teachers, and other medical specialties to understand the causes of the disorder.

Behavior therapy and psychotherapy are usually necessary to help the child appropriately express and control anger.  Special education may be needed for youth with learning disabilities. Parents often need expert assistance in devising and carrying out special management and educational programs in the home and at school.

Treatment is rarely brief since establishing new attitudes and behavior patterns takes time.  Some child and teen behaviors are hard to change after they have become ingrained. Therefore, the earlier the conduct disorder is identified and treated, the better the chance for success. Early treatment offers a child a better chance for considerable improvement and hope for a more successful future.

Information from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and the National Mental Health Information Center.

More Information on Conduct Disorder

Aggression and Violence: The Neurobiology of Experience  Are violent children conceived or created? Is there a neurobiological reason that a child is violent?  What makes a child violent?

Animal Abuse and Youth Violence  An overview of the under-reported phenomenon of animal abuse in childhood and adolescence. Particular attention is given to the role of animal abuse as a symptom of conduct disorder.

Conduct Disorder  In-depth look at one of the most difficult and intractable mental health problems in children and adolescents.

Conduct Disorder in the Family  Dealing with bad behavior and preventing antisocial personality disorder.

Strategies for Classroom Teachers of Students with Conduct Disorder  Excellent list of ways to engage the student with conduct disorder in the classroom through good communication, appropriate accomodations, boundaries, and learning/teaching techniques.

The Partial Psychopath  What is missing in psychopaths is the compelling nature of the appropriate affective response to the knowledge gained from putting himself in another persons shoes, in the way that this happens in the normal person.

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