Symptoms of mental illness in children are often dismissed as "going through a phase."
- A 2020 CDC study examined mental health symptoms in four different school districts within the United States from 2014-2018. This study found that, based on the reports from both teachers and parents, one in six students showed enough behavioral or emotional symptoms to be diagnosed with a childhood mental disorder.
- Mental health conditions or illnesses in children are generally defined as delays or disruptions in developing age-appropriate thinking, behaviors, social skills, or emotional regulation.
- Children can develop many of the same mental health conditions as adults, but their symptoms may be different.
1 in 6 (or 1 in 3, depending on the school district) children were shown to have enough symptoms to be diagnosed with a mental health condition.
Photo by Syda Productions on Shutterstock<p><a href="https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/features/school-aged-mental-health-in-communities.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A 2020 CDC study</a> examined mental health symptoms in four different school districts within the United States from 2014-2018. This study found that, based on the reports from both teachers and parents, one in six students showed enough behavioral or emotional symptoms to be diagnosed with a childhood mental disorder.</p><p><strong>What was the Project to Learn About Youth Mental Health (PLAY-MH) study?</strong></p><p>This was a school-based study conducted throughout the years of 2014-2018. This study was designed to estimate how many kindergarten - grade 12 students had specific mental health disorders. </p><p>The information was collected in two phases. In phase one, teachers in selected school districts were asked to complete a short questionnaire to determine a student's risk for a mental health disorder. In phase two, the parents of selected students were asked to complete a more structured interview to determine if their child met the criteria for a mental health disorder. Between 1 in 6 students (1 in 3 in some districts) fit the criteria, according to the combined data.</p><p>Teachers also identified a higher percentage of boys, non-Hispanic Black students, and students receiving free or reduced-price lunch as having a higher risk for mental disorders than their peers at most schools. However, based on the parent reports, there were generally no major demographic differences in the percentage of students who met the criteria for a mental disorder. This interesting discrepancy suggests that estimating effects of race or income on symptoms gave different results depending on the way the symptoms were examined. </p><p><strong>How can we help at-risk students?</strong></p><p>The information gathered during this four-year study can help parents, teachers, and communities alike to understand and become more aware of the mental health struggles of younger children. With this knowledge, interventions and treatments can become more normalized when dealing with children's mental health conditions.</p><p>The CDC has some suggestions for how we, as communities, can help our at-risk children:</p><ul><li>Schools can consider screening students for mental health concerns and then following up with effective services and counseling options. </li><li>Pediatric and family clinics can use this information to establish how many children may be at risk. </li><li>Communities and parents can work together with school systems to integrate mental health services and referrals into the schools. </li></ul>
Common mental health disorders in children, according to experts<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzk1NDc4My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODg4NzYwMH0.C3dNExRsuVrcDvs_z68q2FY62kee157DLvBtubmmq8A/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C52%2C0%2C52&height=700" id="7b6fe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a6b046f215f2c8d99c44d09de0dbdef3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Stressed and anxious student sitting at desk during exam" />
Anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, ADHD, ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and eating disorders are among commonly overlooked mental health conditions in children.
Photo by Monkey Business Images on Shutterstock<p><a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/mental-illness-in-children/art-20046577" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">According to experts</a>, these are some of the most common disorders among children:</p><p><strong>Anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders):</strong> These conditions may appear as persistent fears, worries, or anxiety that disrupt their ability to participate in play, school, or other typical age-appropriate activities.</p><p><strong>Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD):</strong> Children who struggle with ADHD have difficulty with attention, tend to have impulsive behaviors, generalized hyperactivity, or some combination of these issues. </p><p><strong>Depression (or other mood disorders): </strong>Depression in children presents as persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest that disrupt their ability to function in school and interact with others. </p><p><strong>Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):</strong> PTSD is a prolonged state of emotional distress and anxiety that is prefaced with negative memories, nightmares, and disruptive behaviors in response to a traumatic event the child may have suffered. </p><p><strong>Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): </strong>This is a neurological condition that often can be noticed in early childhood (before the age of three), if you know what to look for. The severity of ASD can vary— a child with this disorder has difficulty communicating and interacting with others.</p><strong>Eating disorders: </strong>Eating disorders show as a preoccupation with an ideal body type. These include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.<p><br></p><p>You can read the full study <a href="https://link.springer.com/epdf/10.1007/s10578-020-01027-z?sharing_token=a3EvHilTjILJ1pJ3KXQQP_e4RwlQNchNByi7wbcMAY64y5G2OhNS1lAeStiE_xCQ5Ke8aBy4C65sfPZeG19uCwJxFWfAgXejmrE2lLmeYUPkpgNGQgq5jMOY-830oPGU5UOPil0_vjxCu9D4EOPVGt5v1H35kEN5sBTGFb5YJJ8%3D" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.</p>
New research shows that neurons in autistic brains begin to developmentally diverge in early prenatal stages.
- Autism is known to emerge during prenatal development, but it can't be diagnosed until a child is at least 12 months old.
- A new study observed the differences between autistic and control nerve cells as they grew in vitro.
- Researchers found that developmental divergence in autistic neurons occurs early in prenatal neurodevelopment.
Watching young neurons grow<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU4OTIwMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjQ3MzUxNX0.jsrKxkbhXM__nrBuPFUIXkOZIxOKm1BuYrjkUob8HhQ/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=57%2C0%2C55%2C0&height=700" id="3f6d4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3957b54c4b6205cf0989eab3ea2ac644" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A side-by-side comparison of neural rosette formation in developing autistic and control neurons.
Not for a cure but acuity<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d02f675d1c4231c04990aea1362fbcdc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/yX1a1pKkbgU?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Could this research lead to a cure for autism? No, and that's not its purpose. In fact, the very wording of that question is misleading as autism isn't a disease. Autistic people aren't sick. Their brains have simply developed uniquely, leading them to think and see the world through a mental lens that is their own.</p><p>As Simon Baron-Cohen, study co-lead and director of Autism Research Centre at Cambridge, said in the same release: "Some people may be worried that basic research into differences in the autistic and typical brain prenatally may be intended to 'prevent,' 'eradicate,' or 'cure' autism. This is not our motivation, and we are outspoken in our values in standing up against eugenics and in valuing neurodiversity. Such studies will lead to a better understanding of brain development in both autistic and typical individuals."</p><p>Future studies in this area may lead to improved diagnostic techniques. This may help families find the resources and support they need to put kids on the path to a healthy, happy life earlier. And the more we know, the more knowledge we have at our disposal to counter disinformation, limiting the spread of the fears and misunderstandings that surrounds autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions.</p>
Prior to COVID-19, 45% of people with intellectual disabilities reported feeling lonely.
My brother was supposed to move into his first "independent" home in mid-March. In his late 20s, and a person with an intellectual disability, he had finally gathered up the courage and the will to move out of our family home and live in a group home.
Groundbreaking neurological research on songbirds provides insight on human learned behavior and speech.
- Scientists recently implanted a false memory into the brains of young zebra finches, teaching them a melody they had never heard before.
- By stimulating certain neural circuits in the male birds' brains, researchers taught them courtship songs bypassing the lessons of an adult tutor.
- Scientists hope this research expands our knowledge of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.
The anatomy of bird 'inception'<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ec72f3a2e728a0ee4bbecd080ab5cc7f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/TaC6D1cW1Hs?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>To test whether manipulating certain neural circuits could implant behavioral-goal memories, the researchers raised young male birds without any social or auditory experience gained through adult song tutors. </p><p>Typically, young male zebra finches learn to sing a mating song from their father or another adult tutor. The finches use their song to court female birds in a behavior that is called "directed singing." Naturally, the birds spend a great deal of time practicing their song in private so they are ready to swoop in and serenade a female when the opportunity arises. </p><p>Researchers optically tutored the finches using light pulses that stimulated certain neural circuits, which were designed to mimic short song elements. This "opto-tutoring" in the young birds shaped the temporal structure of their mating song in adulthood by imprinting "memories" of the song into the birds' brain, bypassing the tutor's lessons. The finches sang the courtship songs that corresponded to the duration of time light had kept the neurons active. Birds that received shorter pulses sang songs with a shorter duration, and those that received extended pulses held their melodies longer. </p><p>Interestingly, the researchers found that opto-tutored male birds grasped the social norms of singing. Like regularly tutored birds, they practiced their mating song when alone and, when presented with a female finch to woo, they performed using the shorter and extended notes they learned through the false memory implantation.</p><p>While the researchers were able to imprint the duration of syllables in the birds' memories, that isn't everything that they need to learn in the song. There are other important characteristics that a zebra finch needs to nail, including pitch and correctly ordering the syllables. Next the researchers want to identify the circuits that carry that other information, and investigate the ways to encode those memories.</p>
Human Implications<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA2MTAyOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNDc4ODI1M30.hOJ6Ss6B38RGFMbYZWptoBreY1byF93CgB64UCC9s6k/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=107%2C169%2C27%2C95&height=700" id="24b6c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d68b68b4f1722fbcb7b9eaf048b79baf" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons<p>The groundbreaking study could potentially serve as a blueprint for discovering how genetic and social environments influence neural circuits over time.</p><p>"This is the first time we have confirmed brain regions that encode behavioral-goal memories — those memories that guide us when we want to imitate anything from speech to learning the piano," said <a href="http://profiles.utsouthwestern.edu/profile/134757/todd-roberts.html" target="_blank">Dr. Todd Roberts</a>, a neuroscientist with UT Southwestern's <a href="https://utswmed.org/odonnell/" target="_blank">O'Donnell Brain Institute in a press release.</a> "The findings enabled us to implant these memories into the birds and guide the learning of their song."</p><p>Because the zebra finches vocal development process is similar to humans, this knowledge might help us better understand the mechanisms of human speech and language learning. The hope is that someday it will be used to target certain speech genes that are disrupted in people with neurological conditions that affect vocalization, such as autism. Not only that, but it could be used to help kids understand other social patterns and cues. </p><p>Of course, the neural pathways of the human mind are a great deal more complex than the circuitry of a songbird's brain. While this research points us in the right direction on where to look for more information on neurodevelopmental disorders, it will be a while before science can imprint the human mind with false memories via light pulse. </p>
Autism is a widely misunderstood condition surrounded by falsehoods, half-truths, and cultural assumptions.
- Autism-spectrum disorder covers a wide range of neurodevelopmental conditions that are highly individualized.
- The prevalence of autism continues to increase in the United States, not due to vaccines but increased awareness and improved diagnosis.
- Autism awareness is crucial as treatment strategies are more effective if accessed early.
1) What is autism?<p><a href="https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html" target="_blank">Autism is a neurodevelopment disability</a>. People with autism have difficulty communicating or interacting socially and may engage in repetitive behaviors. They interact, behave, and learn in unique ways. Their behaviors may include avoiding eye contact, having trouble processing everyday sensory intake, showing no interest in make-believe games, and not enjoying physical contact such as hugging.</p><p>It's considered a <a href="https://www.autism-society.org/what-is/" target="_blank">spectrum condition</a> because it affects people differently (hence the phrase "on the spectrum"). No two people will display identical conditions nor require the same support. Some autistic people can live healthy, independent lives, while others require more extensive care and support.</p><p>Originally, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders categorized autism under the umbrella term "pervasive developmental disorder." But when the manual was updated to its fifth edition in 2013, it revised its criteria for autism. The category is now "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6UTUjoNDxA" target="_blank">autism-spectrum disorder</a>," and it combines conditions that used to be diagnosed separately. These include autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive development disorders not otherwise specified (or PDD-NOS).</p><p>There is no lab test, like a blood test or genetic screening, available to determine if someone has an autistic-spectrum disorder. Medical professionals must make the determination based on behavior and development observations.</p>
2) What causes autism?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f2887a6319b5b5f8219d7e6bf258395c"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/FHNwXicW3X0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Scientists don't know what exactly causes autism. Current investigations suggest <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/autism-genetic-environmental" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a genetic origin</a>, though environmental factors have not been ruled out entirely.</p><p>While it's difficult to untangle the interplay between genes and the environment, a longitudinal cohort study published in <em><a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2737582" target="_blank">JAMA Psychiatry</a></em> has provided the largest attempt so far. Researchers examined health data of more than 22,000 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) from five countries. They estimated the <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/autism-genetics?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1" target="_self">heritability of ASD to be approximately 80 percent</a>. They also found maternal effects — that is, the idea that the condition of the mother's body makes a child more likely to develop autism — to be insignificant. </p><p>"Although families are often most concerned about environmental risk factors for autism, the reality is that genetic factors play a much larger role overall," Andrew Adesman, director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, told <em><a href="https://consumer.healthday.com/cognitive-health-information-26/autism-news-51/autism-largely-caused-by-genetics-not-environment-study-748432.html" target="_blank">HealthDay News</a></em>. (Dr. Adesman was not involved in the study.)</p><p>It remains unclear how genes linked to autism are being activated, and researchers are quick to note that we can't altogether ignore potential environmental factors. After all, they are the ones we can potentially adjust or learn to avoid, and even if genes play the dominant role, the environment could still activate them.</p><p><a href="https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/autism/index.cfm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences</a> lists the following as associated with autism:</p> <ul> <li>advanced parental age at time of conception;</li> <li>prenatal exposure to air pollution or certain pesticides;</li> <li>maternal obesity, diabetes, or immune system disorders;</li> <li>extreme prematurity or very low birth weight; and</li> <li>any birth difficulty leading to periods of oxygen deprivation to the baby's brain.</li> </ul> <p>Other studies have found connections between autism and <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/autism-processed-foods?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1" target="_self">high levels of processed foods</a> in maternal diets, as well as an absence of <a href="https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/researchers-may-have-found-what-causes-autism-and-even-how-to-prevent-it" target="_self">certain gut bacteria</a>.</p><p>Please note: No one claims these environmental factors cause autism, but they do appear to increase a child's risk of developing it when combined with unfavorable genetic factors.</p>
3) Are rates of autism increasing?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0OTkyNC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2Mjk5OTUxNX0.3RnH-yooh3ZQpOeSZ5BK3ihrP38fxA6SGRNwAt39xcw/img.png?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C335%2C0%2C152&height=700" id="ad1e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b0337dbec02e9616c4a78cafaea17afe" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A graph showing the number of people with autistic-spectrum disorder in the world. (Source: IHME/Our World in Data)<p>Yes, they are.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/ss/ss6706a1.htm" target="_blank">CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network</a> estimates the prevalence of autism among 8-year-old children in the U.S. Its estimates are based on more than 300,000 children across the U.S., with updates released every two years. </p><p>In 2016, the CDC estimated the prevalence of autism to be 1 in 68 children. By 2018, about 1 in 59 children were identified as autistic. That's a rate <a href="https://www.autism-society.org/what-is/" target="_blank">twice as high as 2004</a> (1 in 125).</p><p>Worldwide, the trend is similar. According to <a href="https://ourworldindata.org/neurodevelopmental-disorders" target="_blank">the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation</a>, in 2014 17.92 million people were estimated to have autism. By 2016, the number had grown to 18.30. As in the United States, <a href="https://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-facts-and-figures" target="_blank">boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed as autistic</a>.</p>