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adolescent conduct disorder

Alternative Names 
severe behaviour problems, acting out, antisocial behaviour, recurring

Adolescent conduct disorder is a type of problem with behaviour in children older than 10 years of age. A person with this disorder typically does things that are socially unacceptable. The person also constantly violates the rights of others.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? 
Typical, but unacceptable, behaviours in an adolescent with conduct disorder include:
  • physical aggression, with or without a weapon
  • being cruel to animals or other people
  • vandalism and robbery
  • skipping school
  • running away
  • cheating and lying
  • blatant disregard for rules and limits
  • serious interpersonal problems in school and with friends and family
What are the causes and risks of the condition? 
Adolescents who have been victim of child abuse or neglect are at a much higher risk for developing a conduct disorder. Biological factors may contribute as well. For example, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often occurs in a child with a conduct disorder. Other factors include being poor and being raised in a chaotic home environment.

What can be done to prevent the condition? 
A nurturing home environment is the best prevention for conduct disorders in adolescents. Children from homes with a good balance of love and discipline are less likely to develop this disorder than are those from abusive, permissive, or neglectful homes.

How is the condition diagnosed? 
A conduct disorder is diagnosed by a doctor or a psychiatrist. A full psychological and social history will be taken. Also, a complete physical examination should be done to see if there are any medical conditions that could be adding to the behaviour problems.

What are the long-term effects of the condition? 
Children with this disorder are at risk for developing a personality disorder. Serious problems in school and with the law often develop as well.

What are the risks to others? 
Because children with this disorder tend to be aggressive, they may cause harm to others.

What are the treatments for the condition? 
Treatment is aimed at helping the child learn to deal with his or her emotions and impulses. It is important that the child have a predictable, secure, and nurturing environment. Parents need to see to it that the child has reasonable limits set. The child needs to know what is expected of him and what is okay and not okay to do.

Also, the child's school may set up a plan for special education services. Parents need to work closely with the school.

Counselling is needed for the child to help him deal with self-esteem, mood, anger control, and interpersonal problems. This includes helping the child understand what may be causing the behaviour. It also includes teaching the child coping skills and ways to change his or her behaviour.

Author: Ann Reyes, Ph.D.
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 25/04/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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