Conduct disorder is a common psychological diagnosis among children and adolescents. It is a chronic behavior problem that is often seen in schools. It can be difficult for teachers to tell when a child is simply having a string of bad days or being overly extroverted and when there is a true psychological problem. Because of this it is important to make teachers aware of the psychological and counseling services available to them and their students. By making teachers more comfortable in referring students to school psychologists more students can be diagnosed and treated for any conditions or disorders that are interfering with their ability to be successful in school.
The causes of conduct disorder are not fully understood, but it is frequently linked to child abuse, alcoholism, or drug addiction in the family, severe family conflict, and genetic abnormalities. Additionally, the disorder may be triggered by other underlying conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression, or attention-deficit disorder. This condition is seen more frequently in boys.
Students with conduct disorder are not simply being overly rambunctious or rebellious. The children are usually very impulsive, difficult to control, and unconcerned with the feelings of others. Common symptoms include:
- Aggressive or cruel behavior towards animals or people
- Destroying or vandalizing property
- Drinking alcohol
- Drug abuse
- Lying in order to be accepted or to get out of activities or punishments
- Rule breaking with no obvious motivation
- Running away
- Truancy prior to age 13
Tests and Diagnosis
There are no specific tests designed to diagnose conduct disorder. Rather, tests are used to rule out other diagnoses. However, in order for a diagnosis of conduct disorder to be made the behavior has to have a history of these behaviors as opposed to the behaviors appearing suddenly.
Treatment for conduct disorder requires caregivers, teachers, and psychological professionals. If the cause of the disorder is family related it may be necessary for the child to be removed from the home and placed in a nurturing environment. Therapy and behavior modification techniques should be utilized in the home as well as at school and in some cases medications may be indicated.
There are numerous resources available for learning more about this type of disorder and how school psychologists can help parents, students, and teachers better understand the condition.
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry – A comprehensive place for parents to learn more about the disorder.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine – This offers a great overview of the disorder and offers links to treatment options for accompanying issues such as depression and child abuse.
- Mental Health America – This site does an excellent job of explaining some of the problems the child may face.
Have you treated many children with a conduct disorder? Do you generally find these children also suffer from some other psychological disorder or condition?