Child anxiety disorder is the most common psychiatric disorder in children. These disorders cause a great deal of disruption in the lives of all members of a family. If they are untreated in children, they most often contribute to serious psychiatric illnesses as the children become adolescences and adults.
The U.S. Surgeon General estimates that as many as one in eight children between the ages of nine and seventeen will suffer from an anxiety problem each year. The types of disorders begin at different ages, and studies indicate these disorders follow “developmental progression” from one anxiety to another, and then on to an affective disorder.
Children, much like adults, tend to have more than one kind of disorder at a time. About three-quarters of children with an anxiety disorder have other disorders including depression. Anxiety disorders may also occur along with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Tourette’s syndrome.
Tourette’s syndrome is an inherited neuropsychiatric disorder that manifests itself with tics of speech and movement. Common physical outcroppings of the disorder include eye blinking, coughing, sniffing, throat clearing, and facial movements. This particular disorder usually decreases through adolescence and is seldom severe in adults.
Anxiety becomes a disorder in a child when a mismatch occurs between a threat and the child’s emotional and physical response. This overreaction can be influenced by brain chemistry, gender, family history, and age. Girls have higher rates of anxiety disorders than boys do, and this carries over into adulthood.
The most common anxiety disorder among small children is separation anxiety. Social anxiety follows this in adolescence and then reverts to panic disorders as they reach adulthood. This is the usual progression of disorders when not treated at the earliest possible age.
The child who has a parent with an anxiety disorder has a much greater chance of developing similar disorders than other children. The odds are stacked against the child before birth, because indicators point to a probability of three-and-a-half times greater chance than with children whose parents have no such disorder.
Heredity is a strong influence on anxiety disorders. For instance, one child in four who has obsessive-compulsive disorder has a family member with the same misfortune. Of the remaining three-quarters of test groups, almost all have a relative with some kind of anxiety disorder.
A child’s temperament and personality may affect the way he or she accepts new situations or stimuli. The same may be true of how he or she interprets sensations associated with anxiety and fear. These factors play an important role in the severity of disorders when they occur.
Not every child with fears develops a child anxiety disorder, but fear is a contributing reason. The biggest contributor, however, seems to be the inherited traits of family and environment. At any rate, treatment at an early age is important to fashion an adult who can function normally in society.