Adjustment Disorders

What is an adjustment disorder?

An adjustment disorder is defined as an emotional or behavioral reaction to an identifiable stressful event or change in a person's life that is considered maladaptive or somehow an unexpected healthy response to the event or change. The reaction must occur within three months of the identified stressful event or change happening. Examples of stressful event or change in the life of a child or adolescent include a family move, parental divorce or separation, the loss of a pet, birth of a brother or sister.

Adjustment disorders are quite common in children and adolescents. They occur equally in males and females. While adjustment disorders occur in all cultures, the stressors and the signs may vary based on cultural influences. Adjustment disorders occur at all ages, however, characteristics of the disorder are often different in children and adolescents than they are in adults. Differences are noted in the symptoms experienced, severity and duration of symptoms, and in the outcome. Adolescent symptoms of adjustment disorders are more behavioral such as acting out, while adults experience more depressive symptoms.

It is unclear why some children and adolescents may develop an adjustment disorder and others do not. However, developing and practicing coping skills, engaging with social supports, healthy eating habits, ensuring adequate sleep, and daily exercise will likely help your child to deal with stressful life events. Furthermore, early detection and intervention can reduce the severity of symptoms, enhance the child’s normal growth and development, and improve the quality of life experienced by those with adjustment disorders.