Typical Awkward Behavior or a Warning Sign?

Preschoolers’ clumsiness, verbal outbursts and squirmy aversion to cuddling are fodder for amusing YouTube content. But some early childhood experts are starting to look closely at certain behaviors that are generally considered typical for young kids. Researchers believe that these behaviors may be signs of possible developmental issues.

psychiatrists published the first update in 19 years to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the handbook used by mental health professionals to diagnose psychological and emotional disorders. Also known as the DSM-5, the revised manual includes numerous changes in the area of childhood disorders.

Among the new conditions listed are sensory processing disorder and social communication disorder.

Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD, occurs when the nervous system cannot properly “route” messages received through the five senses to generate the appropriate response. A child with SPD may touch a hot kettle and have a non-reaction because the sensation of extreme pain is not being properly processed by the nervous system. Conversely, a toddler may over-react to touch, making the feeling of certain fabric against his skin completely unbearable.

Social Communication Disorder (SCD) is characterized by persistent challenges with verbal and nonverbal communication that don’t stem from cognitive problems. A child with typical cognitive ability who has SCD may have trouble developing spoken and written language, and may respond inappropriately when speaking with teachers, parents or playmates.

So how can parents distinguish between quirky, short-term behavior and a potential psychological condition? According to experts, a disorder disrupts a child’s typical social development. Both SPD and SCD have the potential to impact a child’s ability to do well in school and to make friends, which could lead to social isolation and poor self-esteem. Parents are encouraged to talk to their pediatrician if they notice sudden withdrawal or signs of depression in their child.

The good news is that some health care professionals are starting to integrate screenings for potential social disorders into regular check-ups. And children with SPD or SCD tend to have favorable outcomes through occupational or speech language therapies. Both the American Speech- Language-Hearing Association and the SPD Foundation offer helpful information online.

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