Children with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) may sometimes have behavioral and/or emotional disorders. These can be directly the result of brain injury to the portions of the brain that control emotional regulation, or they may stem from other issues, such as frustration at particular limitations, social situations, or other disability-related concerns. The severity of the emotional or behavioral disorder can vary with the severity of the condition and the degree of limitation that the child has, requiring active management with the help of a psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist.
If a parent suspects that a child may have a behavioral or emotional disorder, they can seek out the assistance of a specialist trained in a program called ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’ (CBT), which aims to help children identify, explore, challenge and change certain behaviors and emotional responses. The method is rooted in the idea that certain patterns of thought and behavior are learned – because they are learned, they can be unlearned and modified to make them more productive.
Signs and Symptoms of Behavioral or Emotional Disorders
Because each child is different, the kinds of behaviors they can display can differ vastly. Generally, however, behavioral and/or emotional disorders tend to manifest themselves in maladaptive, negative or disruptive behaviors and emotional signs, including (but not limited to):
- Anger or aggression
- Antisocial behavior
- Disinhibition/risk-taking behaviors
- Difficulty in performing or executing tasks
- Emotional distress
- Feelings of helplessness
- Frustration and irritability
- Loss of interest in things the child once loved
- Poor academic performance
- Peer rejection
- Social difficulties
- Repetitive hostile, defiant or disobedient behaviors
Addressing Behavioral and Emotional Disorders
If these behaviors become disruptive or occur in response to frustration, a child may benefit from CBT. It is also useful in situations where the child is deemed to be a possible harm to themselves or other individuals. In less severe circumstances, children and families may benefit from CBT if quality of life within the family unit is compromised or when the child seems to have difficulty bonding with other family members, friends or members of the community. It is also useful in situations where the child is being bullied and, as a result, feels irritable, isolated, rejected or depressed.
Parents can reach out to several different types of practitioners to provide cognitive-behavioral therapy, including licensed professional counselors, marriage/family therapists, psychotherapists, or psychiatrists. Each type of practitioner provides a slightly different perspective:
- Licensed professional counselors: Specialize in behavioral therapy and developmental progress; focus on assisting clients with specific challenges relating to the tasks of everyday life.
- Marriage/family therapists: Specialize in helping maintain or repair the family unit; focus on relationship dynamics.
- Psychotherapists: Specialize in helping develop positive coping mechanisms, developing interpersonal relationships, and achieving full potential; focus on improving mental health, increasing self-awareness and improving perspective.
- Psychiatrists: Specialize in assisting individuals that benefit from pharmacological interventions; focus on applied psychotherapy and the biopsychosocial model of mental illness.
Each of these practitioners can provide a slightly different kind of service; however, the benefits extend not only to the child, but also to the family unit. In many cases, the therapist will work not only with the child, but also with parents and siblings to identify problematic behaviors and develop more positive responses to specific concerns the family may have. This can result in an overall improvement in the child’s ability to manage stress and frustration, the child’s ability to address academic and social challenges, and the family’s ability to positively adjust routines and daily living practices to accommodate for the child’s disability. As the child ages and is expected to transition into adulthood, the skills learned in cognitive-behavioral therapy will help them in coping with the stresses of increased responsibility and potential independence.
Behavioral and Emotional Disorders: Additional Resources
For further information on finding a therapist for a child with behavioral or emotional disorders, check out the following resources: