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Children with conduct disorder repeatedly violate the personal or property rights of others and the basic expectations of society. A diagnosis of conduct disorder is likely when symptoms continue for 6 months or longer. Conduct disorder is known as a “disruptive behavior disorder” because of its impact on children and their families, neighbors, and schools.
Another disruptive behavior disorder, called oppositional defiant disorder, may be a precursor of conduct disorder. A child is diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder when he or she shows signs of being hostile and defiant for at least 6 months. Oppositional defiant disorder may start as early as the preschool years, while conduct disorder generally appears when children are older. Oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder are not co-occurring conditions.
Some symptoms of conduct disorder include:
Children with conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder also may experience:
Conduct disorder affects 1 to 4 percent of 9- to 17-year-olds, depending on exactly how the disorder is defined (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). The disorder appears to be more common in boys than in girls and more common in cities than in rural areas.
Research shows that some cases of conduct disorder begin in early childhood, often by the preschool years. In fact, some infants who are especially “fussy” appear to be at risk for developing conduct disorder. Other factors that may make a child more likely to develop conduct disorder include:
Although conduct disorder is one of the most difficult behavior disorders to treat, young people often benefit from a range of services that include:
Some child and adolescent 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. Most children or adolescents with conduct disorder are probably reacting to events and situations in their lives. Some recent studies have focused on promising ways to prevent conduct disorder among at-risk children and adolescents. In addition, more research is needed to determine if biology is a factor in conduct disorder.
Parents or other caregivers who notice signs of conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder in a child or adolescent should:
People who are not satisfied with the mental health services they receive should discuss their concerns with their provider, ask for more information, and/or seek help from other sources.
Important Messages About Children’s and Adolescents’ Mental Health:
Source: Center for Mental Health Services