Children who have brain-based developmental disorders, such as Autism, Cerebral Palsy, and Epilepsy, are more likely than children without these disorders to have mental health issues. The prevalence of mental health conditions for children with developmental disabilities is more than the average for all other children. Approximately 30-50% of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities also have mental health conditions. Mental health issues range from ones that are very obvious, such as aggressive or combative behaviour, to ones that are less visible and obvious, such as anxiety or withdrawn behaviour reflective of depression.

There is evidence that children with developmental disabilities have a higher rate of mental health disorders than the general population.

Statistics show that children with developmental disabilities are:

  • 33 times more likely to have autism spectrum disorder (ASD);
  • 8 times more likely to have attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD);
  • 6 times more likely to have a conduct disorder;
  • 4 times more likely to have an emotional mental health condition;
  • 3 times more likely to experience psychosis;
  • 2 times more likely to have depression.

Some children may be easily triggered and have a harder time calming down, while others seem to cope better. Management of challenging behaviours through self-regulation or self-soothing depends on many factors. There may be neuro-biological factors involved that have to do with brain chemistry and circuitry, as well as factors related to the child’s social environment such as a positive and accommodating family, peer, or school environment.

Children with brain-based developmental disorders almost always need access to therapeutic programs that promote their development. In addition to providing ‘hands-on’ treatment, therapists make recommendations that can be integrated into childrens’ day-to-day lives at school and at home. These recommendations help children to develop skills they need to function and grow, and to ultimately feel better about themselves.

Overview For Parents

  • Parents do make a difference to their child’s well-being, but there are many factors that go into and that explain how children behave and what their mental health looks like.
  • Challenging behaviour is a sign that something is upsetting the child.
  • It is important to get at what it is that may be upsetting the child.
  • Help your child to name how they are feeling (e.g., mad, sad, jealous, etc.).
  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings.
  • Let your child know what is or is not possible by setting limits in a caring way.
  • Examine your child’s environment to see if there are possible triggers (e.g., sensory, relational, social exclusion).
  • Talk to other parents and seek out support for yourself.

Overview For Clinicians

  • Dysregulated behaviour is not ‘manipulative’ behaviour.
  • Consider and investigate possible physical reasons for dysregulated behaviour, particularly among non-verbal children (e.g., UTI, sleep deprivation, pain).
  • Involve parents in the solution.
  • Collaborate with other practitioners and professionals when developing treatment plan (e.g., local physician, teacher, occupational therapist, social worker).
  • Involve the child’s school environment in the solution.

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