Wednesday, May 29th, 2013
DSM-5 has raised lots of controversies by making changes to the way some psychiatric disorders are defined. But less controversial is flagging the importance of callous-unemotional traits in childhood as part of the diagnostic approach to Conduct Disorder.
Conduct Disorder refers to a pattern of behavior that consistently violates the rights of others. As kids reach later childhood and their early teens, the types of behaviors include what we would think about as things that would get kids in trouble: destroying property, breaking and entering, fighting, lying, stealing. While some kids may do some of these things now and then, what’s important clinically is when a lot of these behaviors cluster together and occur with some frequency.
There can be many reasons why kids behave this way. It’s clear that kids exhibiting signs of Conduct Disorder require some type of intervention. It’s a pattern of behavior which can be associated with a lot of bad outcomes – dropping out of school, eventual substance abuse, and even jail.
So why are callous-emotional traits relevant, and flagged in DSM-5? The risk for these outcomes may be especially high if a child is showing callous-unemotional traits – such as a lack of empathy, a lack of remorse, and shallow emotions. When tracked over time, youth with these traits are especially likely to show a stable pattern of antisocial behavior over time – from childhood through adulthood. Their actions may be (or become) especially aggressive and violent.
Treating kids with callous-unemotional traits is complicated. A number of behavioral strategies may be considered, as well as some forms of drug treatment (especially if they have symptoms of other disorders, such as ADHD or depression).
DSM-5 has certainly be criticized. There are many hot-button topics raised in the revision. But the inclusion of callous-unemotional traits is an example of how research findings can lead to diagnostic changes that are simply there to signal which kids may be at especially high risk for a number of bad long-term outcomes and hence require some immediate form of intervention. That’s solid information for a clinician to weigh during the evaluation process.Add a Comment