Adjustment Disorder Signs, Symptoms & Effects In Children

Little Creek Behavioral Health offers residential treatment for children and adolescents ages 12-18 who are experiencing symptoms of an adjustment disorder and other mental health conditions. Located in Conway, Arkansas, Little Creek provides comprehensive mental health programming that addresses the unique needs of young people. 

Understanding Adjustment Disorders

Learn about adjustment disorders

An adjustment disorder is a mental health condition that causes a child to experience emotional or behavioral changes resulting from an identifiable external stressor. This trigger may be recurrent and continuous event, such as living with a chronic medical condition or growing up in an abusive household, or one-time event, such as a natural disaster or witnessing a criminal act. There may be multiple significant life events that contribute to the onset of an adjustment disorder. Stress resulting from a typical childhood milestone, such as entering school or a family moving to a new house, may also cause this mental health condition.  

While the death of a loved one can trigger an adjustment disorder, this only occurs when a child’s grief is more intense or persistent than typical grief for someone of that age, culture, and religion. 

Symptoms of an adjustment disorder typically begin within three months of the stressor’s first appearance. Behavioral or emotional changes associated with this condition last no longer than six months after the trigger or related events have ended. If symptoms persist after the stressor has subsided, children are often diagnosed with a different mental health condition. 

Children with medical conditions may demonstrate behavioral or emotional symptoms that are similar to those of an adjustment disorder. A mental health professional can determine whether a child is experiencing a stress-related reaction to a medical condition or if symptoms are due to the onset of an adjustment disorder. This mental health condition may cause different symptoms in children and adolescents than it does in adults, so it is important to receive age-appropriate care for all mental health concerns. 


Statistics about adjustment disorders

Psychiatry and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) have gathered the following statistics on adjustment disorders in the United States: 

  • An adjustment disorder is one of the most common diagnoses, with a prevalence of about 50% in hospital settings. 
  • Between 20% and 50% of children or adolescents struggling with adjustment disorders are diagnosed with another mental health condition within five years of the initial diagnosis. 
  • Adjustment disorders are equally common between adolescent boys and adolescent girls. 

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for adjustment disorders

Risk factors for developing an adjustment disorder are mainly environmental, since the triggers are external sources of stress. While there is no guarantee that a child with these risk factors will be diagnosed with an adjustment disorder, some stressors that may increase their risk are: 

  • Living in an unsupportive environment 
  • Experiencing milestone life events, both positive and negative 
  • The presence of other mental health conditions 
  • Multiple stressors occurring at the same time 

A child who is frequently exposed to stressful environments may be more likely to experience traumatic events. This makes environment one of the most important risk factors for an adjustment disorder. 

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of adjustment disorders 

Children or adolescents struggling with an adjustment disorder may demonstrate a variety of mental, behavioral, and physical symptoms resulting from stressful life events. Some children with this condition experience more symptoms of anxiety while other children display more depressive symptoms: 

Mental symptoms: 

  • Depressed mood 
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worry, or nervousness 
  • Separation anxiety 
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks 
  • Suicidal thoughts 

Physical symptoms: 

  • Restlessness, jumpiness, or jitteriness 
  • Poor appetite 
  • Difficulty sleeping 

Behavioral symptoms: 

  • Disobeying rules in public or at home 
  • Withdrawing from leisure or social activities 
  • Neglecting basic self-care, such as hygiene and grooming 
  • Difficulty fulfilling responsibilities at school or home 
  • Crying with no known cause 
  • Suicide attempts or self-harm behaviors 
  • Easily agitated or irritated 


Effects of adjustment disorders 

Once your child receives personalized, professional care, it is possible to put an end to the harmful effects of an adjustment disorderIf your child has an unmanaged adjustment disorder, they may experience adverse outcomes at home, school, and in the community, such as: 

  • Injury from suicide attempts or self-harm 
  • Poor academic performance 
  • Criminal charges due to misconduct 
  • Withdrawal from social situations 
  • Substance use 
  • Difficulty beginning or maintaining interpersonal relationships 
  • Medical conditions resulting from lack of self-care 

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among children and adolescents who have adjustment disorders 

Some children or adolescents living with an adjustment disorder also experience other mental health conditions. This may complicate the recovery processso it is vital to seek services from a specialized mental health facility. Children who experience an adjustment disorder may also be diagnosed with: 

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) 
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Depression 
  • Personality disorders 

Little Creek Behavioral Health provides comprehensive mental health programming to improve the quality of life and development of your child. Our facility provides services that address the unique mental health needs of each young person who seeks our care. 

Marks of Quality Care
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval