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Understanding Childhood Psychiatric Disorders

Highlights from February 15, 2012 Creating a Family radio show

One of the hardest things a parent may have to face is a mental illness or psychiatric disorder in their child. It is terrifying both in the present and in the future. How best to diagnose mental illness in children and how best to treat it? Should psychotropic drugs be used and are psychiatric medicines safe for children? Our guest is Dr. Joshua Sparrow, child and adolescent psychiatrist, Associate Clinical Professor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of Strategy, Planning and Program Development at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center at Children’s Hospital Boston. He also writes a regular column for the New York Times.

  • Resource written by Dr. Sparrow and available online: The Medicated Child: A Guide for Parents
  • How can you tell if your child is just going through a hard time or a developmental stage or if your child is suffering from some type of mental illness or disorder which requires more intervention? In other words, when should you worry?
  • What are the symptoms or warning signs of some of the more common mental illnesses that can be seen in children?
  • What can be the causes for a child who acts out and cannot control his anger?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a specific diagnosis for your child?
  • Are there certain ages that a child is more likely to be diagnosed of referred to a specialist for suspected mental disorders?
  • How is bi polar disorder diagnosed in children?
  • Can bi-polar be diagnosed with any degree of reliability?
  • Should a child be diagnosed with bi polar disease?
  • Must a child be diagnosed with a psychiatric condition in order to receive services or be helped?
  • What steps should parents take to get a proper diagnosis for mental disorders?
  • What are the dangers of early diagnosing of a child, or maybe the better way to ask this is there a downside to having a mental illness label in a young child’s school and medical records?
  • Many in our audience will have children who were adopted and they know little about the prenatal habits of the birthmother and sometimes little information about the child’s early life experiences. Sometimes a logical reaction to a lousy life experience is to develop behaviors that might have served you well in the dysfunctional place you came from but are not healthy in a new family setting. Or, a child may struggle with sensory overload having come from a very sensory deprived background. Or struggle with trust and attachment issues. Is it possible to tease out these conditions vs. actual mental illness? Attachment disorders, RAD, fetal alcohol disorders, FASD, sensory processing disorders, SPD, oppositional defiant disorder, ODD.
  • Using psychiatric medication on children is a controversial topic. What types of psychiatric disorders in children respond well to medication?
  • Is it possible to say what are the more common psychotropic drugs being prescribed or kids?
  • How do you know the best dose to use?
  • How do these meds work?
  • What are the side effects of the more common pediatric psychiatric medications?
  • What are the risks of medicating a developing mind?
  • Are there ways to ameliorate or lessen these side effects from psychotropic drugs in children?
  • Can a child outgrow a psychiatric disorder or once diagnosed they will likely have it for life?
  • How do growth spurts or puberty affect children with psychiatric issues and how does it affect their medication is they are taking any?

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