Developmental Factors

Information for Professionals


Referral to a child and adolescent psychiatrist assessment can be useful to clarify when there is a mixture of features of emotional and/or behavioural problems and developmental factors.
A range of developmental factors including giftedness, developmental delay and disorders on the Autistic Spectrum influence how a child or adolescent may present with emotional or behavioural problems.

Children who have extremely high intellectual function (giftedness) may present differently partly because of high expectations of their social and emotional function. Some children and adolescents function very well in social and emotional arenas as well as academically, however for others their social and/or emotional development may be significantly slower than their cognitive ability and this can create problems. Another situation is where the child’s symptoms are minimised because they are able to manage despite them, such as the child or adolescent with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or Depression who continues to do reasonably well academically because of their considerable reserve.

Children with developmental delay or difficulties with social communication and relatedness (or both) are at increased risk of emotional and behavioural problems, and the diagnosis may be unclear in the setting of both features of social interaction problems and emotional distress or non-compliance.

Treatment of emotional and behavioural difficulties in children and adolescents who have extremely high cognitive function is similar to that for other children, with some modifications for the potential difference between their intellectual and social or emotional development. Family understanding and involvement is important.

Where children have delay or problems with social relatedness and communication, treatment is in conjunction with the team working on interventions to optimise their development, usually including a paediatrician and other health professionals such as a psychologist or occupational therapist with their General Practitioner. Family intervention can be helpful and where medication is indicated smaller doses are often needed due to increased rates of adverse drug reactions.