An adjustment disorder is a reaction to stress that lasts less than 6 months. The stress may be a change in the family, such as a move, divorce, or birth. It may be a very stressful event such as abuse, tornado, rape, severe car accident, or a national tragedy. If a child has an adjustment disorder, the child's reaction seems to be out of proportion to what happened and gets in the way of relationships, school, and daily life.
It is not known why one child develops an adjustment disorder while another does not. Adjustment disorders are not thought to be caused by anything biological. Children and teens vary in their temperament, past experiences, vulnerability, and coping skills. Their maturity and support system are factors that also have something to do with how they react. Stressors also vary in how severe the experience is, whether it happens again, and how parents react to the event.
Your child may:
If your child's symptoms last for more than 3 months after the event and interfere with daily life, see your child's healthcare provider. Your child's healthcare provider will ask about the child's symptoms, medical and family history, and any medicines the child is taking. Your child may have some lab tests to rule out medical problems such as chemical imbalances. If your child's symptoms do not have a physical cause, you may be referred to a mental health specialist. The mental health specialist will ask about your child's development, emotions, behaviors, and the stressful event.
Treatment is based on your child's age, overall health, medical history, and symptoms. Therapy (individual, group, or family) may help reduce fears and worries. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is very helpful for adjustment disorders. Art therapy can also help young children draw pictures about what happened or play out their feelings. Support groups can help your child understand that he or she is not alone. Groups also provide a safe place to share feelings.
A mental health specialist might also recommend medicines. These medicines can help reduce depression and anxiety and help your child cope with school and other daily activities. Medicine is often used as a temporary measure to help until your child feels better.