Signs and Symptoms of Conduct Disorder

Children with conduct disorder are often difficult to diagnose because the disorder's signs and symptoms may look similar to those of other conditions, such as ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder.

Doctors group the symptoms of conduct disorder into four categories:

  1. Aggressive behavior, such as cruelty to animals, fighting and bullying
  2. Destructive behavior, such as arson and vandalism
  3. Deceitful behavior, such as shoplifting and lying
  4. Violation of rules, which may include truancy and running away from home

Drug and alcohol abuse, sexual activity and low self-esteem are also common signs of conduct disorder that should concern parents.

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A child whose behavior consistently falls into these categories may have conduct disorder. It's important to have them properly diagnosed by a professional.

Conduct Disorder Causes Consistent Misbehavior

Since any child may show the symptoms and signs of conduct disorder at some point in their young lives, adults need to understand that acting out does not necessarily mean a child has the disorder.

In order to match the diagnosis for conduct disorder, children must present at least three symptoms within 12 months. A child who gets into one fight at school probably does not have conduct disorder. If that child starts three or more fights within a year, there is a higher chance that he or she may have the disorder.

This persistence is a foundational characteristic of conduct disorder. Every child misbehaves occasionally. Children with conduct disorder misbehave so often that it disturbs their classmates and families.

Does My Child Have Conduct Disorder?

The symptoms of ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and similar conditions often look like the symptoms of conduct disorder. While they look similar, there are some important differences between these conditions.

Children with ADHD and ODD may seem angry or hostile, but they rarely show the cruelty common in children with conduct disorder. For instance, a boy with ADHD may get into occasional fights at school because he feels frustrated and insecure. Most counselors wouldn't diagnosis this as conduct disorder. If the boy engaged in particularly cruel behavior towards another student, though, conduct disorder is more likely.

Cruel behavior could include causing intense pain, relentlessly bullying an adversary's friends or harming the adversary's pet. Children with conduct disorder rarely show any guilt after committing cruel actions.

Most children with behavioral problems do not have conduct disorder. Those who show several symptoms, however, should meet with a professional who can perform a comprehensive assessment. 

If your child struggles with difficult behavioral issues or has been diagnosed with a behavioral disorder, we can help. Contact us by completing the form, or give us a call. We're here for you, with a plan that has helped more than 45,000 families like yours.

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Disclaimer: The information presented on this web site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment of specific medical conditions. Discuss this information with your healthcare provider to determine what is right for you and your family.

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