April 2016
Common Childhood Disorders

According to the World Health Organisation, 10-20% of children and adolescents across the world experience mental disorders. Half of all mental illness starts by the age of 14 years old. Childhood disorders may be apparent in a range of behavioural or emotional symptoms, disruptions in family home life, or in the school setting. Mental illness at a young age can significantly affect the individuals life, limiting educational attainment, interfering with the child’s development and placing pressure on social interactions and activities.

There are two common disorders which seem to be related to a biological vulnerability which are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism.

What is ADHD and Autism?

ADHD is characterized by a high level of inability to pay attention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity. Some children with ADHD mainly have problems in paying attention, others are mainly hyperactive and impulsive, yet other children may have the presence of both these types of symptoms

Autism, or what is now known as Autism Spectrum Disorders (which includes Asperger’s Syndrome). These disorders are evident at an early age, most commonly well under three years of age, in which there is substantial impairment in social interactions, communication, and usual age typical behaviour. The child’s ability to form relationships, to communicate verbally or non-verbally, or to engage in a wide range of interests or activities is much less than what is usually considered acceptable or expected, according to the age and developmental stage of the child.

The symptoms


There are various symptoms of ADHD, symptoms due to lack of attention include;

  • Failure to pay close attention to details or regularly making careless mistakes

  • Difficulty sustaining attention

  • Decreased ability to appear to be able to listen attentively when spoken to directly

  • Frequent evidence of inability to follow through on instructions or in completing tasks

  • Difficulty organizing one’s self in a variety of ways including school work

  • Avoidance of tasks that require sustained attention

  • Easily distracted

  • Forgetful in daily activities

  • Symptoms related to hyperactivity:

  • Fidgets with hands or feet

  • Difficulty remaining seated when required

  • Running about or climbing excessively 

  •  Difficulty engaging in leisure activities quietly

  • Excessive talking

  • Appearance of being in constant motion

Symptoms of impulsivity may include:

  • Inappropriately and regularly answering questions too rapidly

  • Difficulty waiting for turn one’s turn in an activity

  • May often disrupt others or be intrusive

Many of these symptoms become apparent in the school situation, so they are often diagnosed during school age. Many children who have these symptoms will have problems because of this either at school or at home.



Autism has a spectrum of severity therefore children present with a wide range of symptoms. Communication difficulties may include:

  • Delayed or total lack of development of spoken language

  • Limited ability to start or maintain a conversation 

  • Stereotyped or repetitive use of particular aspects of language, such as frequently repeating a specific phrase

  • Play lacking in the usual variety seen in most children

  • Difficulties in Social Interaction include:

  • Problems in the use of non-verbal behaviours such as eye-contact, facial expressions, physical gestures

  • Failure to develop appropriate peer relationships

  • Apparent lack of desire to share in interactions and pleasurable activities of interest to most others

  • Inability to have appropriate emotional interaction with others

  • Symptoms involving Behaviour, Interests, and other Activities:

  • Abnormally intense focus on one particular interest to the exclusion of other areas of activity

  • Inflexible ritualistic behaviours and behavioural patterns

  • Repetitive behaviours such as continual head banging, flapping of hands, or repeating sounds or phrases

  • Abnormal preoccupation with a specific part of an object



While no specific causes for ADHD are known, there is increasing evidence that because most children have a family member with this disorder, genetic influences play a substantial role.

The specific causes of autism and autism spectrum disorders are not known, but there is an increased risk of autism if there is a family member who has this disorder. It appears that the genetic component is the most substantial risk component for the development of autism. While some individuals believe that childhood vaccinations cause autism, repeated research studies with large groups of children shows there is no association with vaccination and the onset of autism.



Treatments of ADHD include medications and specific types of therapy focused on improving the ability of the child to control one’s own behaviour. Medications known as stimulants are a common effective form of treatment, for adults or children with ADHD. Other medications which are not considered stimulants are also affective for some. Helping the parents to learn effective ways of responding to the child with ADHD and helping to shape behaviour in a positive way is also useful for nearly all affected children. Behaviour therapies involve a variety of exercises, best carried out with good coordination between parents and teachers, to help children learn how to better control the symptoms which are causing the problems. Parent education and assistance to parents can also be extremely helpful in improving the child’s condition. Treatment is very important because there seem to be some long-term positive effects of early treatment. There include positive effects on a variety of problems in school performance and difficulties in social situations, as well as the possibility of decreased risk for depression and alcohol or drug abuse.

With appropriate treatment of autism the child’s symptoms can be reduced and ability to function can be improved. Treatment success, as in most disorders, is best when there is a very early diagnosis and the beginning of treatment. Treatments are often complex and time consuming. One of the most common approaches is a set of treatments known as applied behavioural analysis. This form of treatment involves several hours a day, most days of the week for an extended time period. However, clinical outcomes are usually positive, with improvement of the child’s ability to function. Modification of educational settings, if possible, is often helpful for children with autism. An important part of intervention is helping parents learn about the illness, and how to best help their child to function optimally. In addition, because of the stress of having a child with autism and helping treat the child, helping the parents deal with the stress is often an important part of the treatment.

‘WPA Public Education Initiative’ 
Dr. Avdesh Sharma, International Lead, WPA; Consultant Psychiatrist, India
Dr. Sujatha Sharma, Consultant Psychologist, India
Stefanie Radford, Senior Project Manager, United Kingdom
Rajeev Verma, Administrator, India
Pragya Mehra, Media Specialist, India
Jatin Kumar, Media Editor, India

Supported by Unrestricted Educational Grant by SUN Pharma SUN LOGO

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