Behavioral and Learning Disorders and Developmental Delays

What is a behavioral disorder?

Pediatric experts to be careful not to confuse a behavioral issue with an emotional or behavioral disorder. Child psychology experts say that the term “disorder” should be used cautiously for children up to five years old; children aged five and under are undergoing rapid developmental change and certain behavioral issues are “normal.”

Behavioral disorders are generally diagnosed in children above the age of five and result from the child demonstrating consistent disruptive behavioral that is not inline with the child’s age and developmental stage. Examples of behavioral disorders in children include:

  • Anxiety disorder:
    An extreme feeling of fear or nervousness about what’s to come

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD):
    Causes unusual levels of hyperactivity and impulsive behaviors

  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

  • Conduct disorders:
    Difficulty following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way; marked by aggressive, deceitful and/or destructive behavior

  • Bipolar disorder:
    Significantly high and low moods; symptoms usually appear in young adults but can be diagnosed in children and teens

  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD):
    Persistent pattern of angry outbursts, arguments, and disobedience generally directed at parents, teachers and other authority figures

What is a learning disorder?

Also referred to as a learning disability, a learning disorder refers to when someone struggles in a specific academic area, because their brain has trouble processing certain types of information. The most common learning disorders are:

  • Dyslexia: difficulty with reading

  • Dyscalculia: difficulty with math

  • Dysgraphia: difficulty with writing

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some of the symptoms of learning disorders include difficulties in:

  • Coordination when moving around

  • Correctly ordering letters, words, or numbers, after first or second grade (i.e., reversing letters, words or numbers)

  • Doing tasks with the hands, like writing, cutting or drawing

  • Remembering what was just said or what was just read

  • Recognizing patterns or sorting items by size or shape

  • Telling right from left

  • Staying organized

  • Understanding and following instructions

  • Understanding the concept of time

What is the relationship between learning disorders and behavioral disorders?

A learning disorder can cause a child to feel embarrassed, frustrated, ashamed and hopeless resulting in acting out or other behavioral issues. A child’s learning disorder may also be directly linked to a behavioral disorder.

What are developmental delays?

Developmental delays result from an impairment in physical, learning, language or behavior areas. According to the CDC, about one in six children in the U.S. have one or more developmental disabilities or other developmental delays. Behavioral disorders and learning disorders are types of developmental delays.

Because these conditions begin during the developmental period (birth to age five), understanding early symptoms is critical to early intervention. Parents, grandparents, guardians, caregivers and child educators are encouraged by the CDC to know childhood milestones by age and act early if a child is not meeting these milestones.

What should I do if I think my child has a developmental delay, including a behavioral and/or learning disorder?

  • Establish primary care for your child:
    From birth on, your child should have a primary care provider (PCP) or pediatrician with whom you schedule regular wellness visits, which include developmental monitoring and screenings. If you do not have a PCP or pediatrician for your child, schedule an appointment with one today.

  • Prepare for each well-child visit with the PCP:
    During your regular visits with your child’s PCP, be prepared by documenting family medical history and any changes in it as well as any concerns or questions you have about your child’s health and development.

  • Don’t wait for the next appointment if you have a concern:
    If you notice a symptom of a developmental delay in your child or have a question about your child’s developmental milestones, don’t wait for your child’s next scheduled appointment. Use the Patient Portal, call the pediatrician’s office and ask questions or request a new appointment; early diagnosis and intervention is key to helping your child thrive.

If your child is diagnosed with a developmental delay, a multispecialty team of pediatric experts will be needed to accurately diagnose your child and develop a comprehensive, individualized treatment plan that may include behavioral health counseling, medications, and other support such as child life specialists and social workers. DMG CRS has all the needed medical specialties, therapy programs, and support services in one location, so you can coordinate appointments and have confidence that your child’s whole care team has access to the same information in a single medical record.