News

Study looking for link in children's conduct

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

A University of Washington study is following the emotional and behavioral development of children over the course of three years.

The Child and Adolescent Adjustment Project (CAAP) examines conduct disorder and depression — and their causes and the concurrence of the two — in 8 to 12-year-olds.

Since conduct disorder and depression can occur at the same time, the study’s main question is to discover which is the primary disorder.

“I hope we can make more informed treatment decisions,” said Ted Beauchaine, Ph.D., who is leading the study. “We also hope to learn what sorts of family predictors contribute.”

One-hundred and twenty families have agreed to participate in the compensated study, and Beauchaine is seeking 120 more.

“Untreated conduct disorder and depression may lead to even more serious behavioral problems as the child gets older, including antisocial and self-harming behaviors,” said research coordinator Patrick Sylvers.

“Kids with conduct disorder do a whole wide range of things,” Beauchaine said. “In the classroom they’re typically behind. They’re disruptive. They may be bullies.”

Extreme symptoms of conduct disorder in children — which Beauchaine said are rare — may include arson and animal abuse.

Beauchaine added that impulsivity, a highly inheritable trait, can contribute to conduct disorder.

He added that an unstable environment can help encourage conduct disorder. A single-parent home, substandard schools, peer relationships with kids who act out, a chaotic home life, and poverty can all contribute to behavioral problems.

“Poverty is one of the biggest risk factors for conduct disorder,” Beauchaine said.

But concerned parents can help alleviate symptoms of conduct disorder by learning formal parenting skills, such as those offered by the UW’s Parenting Clinic.

While yelling and hitting in class is behavior that’s quickly noticed, depression in children — with its much more subdued and muted symptoms — is often undetected by adults.

“Young kids with depression don’t get noticed,” said Beauchaine.

Some symptoms of childhood depression include anxiety, fear of school, emotional withdrawal, having many fears, avoiding friends, and separation anxiety.

“If that description characterizes a parent’s child, then they can call us and we will do all the screening and diagnoses,” Beauchaine said.

And while impulsivity may be linked to behavioral problems, shyness may be linked with depression.

“The truth is, anxious and shy kids are at risk for depression,” Beauchaine said. “There is a demonstrated elevated risk for children who are shy and depression.”

Between the ages of eight to 12, rates of conduct problems increase in boys, Beauchaine said. If left untreated, a child or teen with conduct disorder problems might — given the wrong environment and influences — eventually engage in criminal behavior.

In girls within the same age range, rates of depression increase.

“There’s actually probably more depression than conduct disorder in kids,” Beauchaine said. He estimates that about three to four percent of children have serious conduct disorder, while the rate for depression within the same group is “slightly higher.”

“There are actually people with a genetic liability for depression,” he said. “On the other hand, if you put someone in a noxious enough environment, they will get depressed.”

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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