Child and Adolescent Adjustment Disorder Causes, Symptoms & Signs

The symptoms of adjustment disorder in children and adolescents can often be difficult to identify. Once an individual identifies the symptoms and side effects of adjustment disorder, the next step in the recovery journey become clear.

Understanding Adjustment Disorder in Children and Adolescents

What is child and adolescent adjustment disorder?

When an adult goes through a major life change, it is expected that he or she will adapt and carry on after the period of adjustment subsides. The same is true for young people who endure changes in their lives, though much like adults who have difficulty adapting to their new circumstances, adolescents can sometimes have a hard time getting used to the alterations that have occurred. Moving to a new home in a new community, changing schools, experiencing the divorce of one’s parents, the birth of a new sibling, or the death of an important loved can all drastically affect and challenge an adolescent’s ability to function.

If, after experiencing significant life changes, a child or teen is unable to function in a healthy manner, adjustment disorder may be present. This mental health condition is quite common, as it impacts the lives of several young people all across the country. Despite the prevalence of this illness, proper care is most certainly warranted if an adolescent experiences discord across several areas of life.

Adjustment disorder symptoms, which can include intense feelings of anxiety, decreased self-esteem, deterioration of coping skills that were once effective, and even avoidance of situations or circumstances that require adaptive behavior, can cause a great deal of emotional upheaval for a teen and lead to several detrimental effects. For these reasons and more, it is important to identify the symptoms of this disorder and advocate on an adolescent’s behalf so that he or she can access proper treatment sooner rather than later.


Child and adolescent adjustment disorder statistics

As stated, adjustment disorder is a commonly diagnosed mental health condition that affects people of all ages from all backgrounds. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, around fifty percent of all individuals who seek mental health treatment are battling adjustment disorder. With proper care, however, it is quite possible to overcome this illness and develop the confidence and skills needed to handle stress and life changes more effectively in the future, thus preventing the need for more intensive treatment down the line.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for children and adolescents with adjustment disorder

Adjustment disorder occurs in response to a change in life that a person is unable to cope with. However, there are certain factors that can make adolescents more prone to grappling with this illness following such a change. Consider the following when trying to understand why a child or teen in your life is now suffering from adjustment disorder:

Environmental: Children and teens require loved ones, school personnel, and other role models to demonstrate and teach healthy methods of coping. When a teen is not taught how to manage turmoil and change in a healthy manner, the symptoms of adjustment disorder are more likely to manifest. Additionally, if a child or teen does not have a strong support network available to him or her when psychological strife occurs, the risk for experiencing adjustment disorder symptoms increases as well. Given these facts, it can be conclusively said that there are certain other environmental factors that can influence the onset of adjustment disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Welcoming a new sibling
  • Suffering from a chronic and/or painful illness
  • Parental divorce
  • Loss of a parent or other loved one
  • Leaving or reentering a parental home
  • Exposure to crime or violence
  • Experiencing a natural disaster
  • Changing schools

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of adjustment disorder in children and adolescents

Depending on a child or teen’s already existing methods for coping prior to the life-altering event, the signs and symptoms of adjustment disorder may or may not be as apparent to those closest to him or her. If you are concerned that a young person in your life is suffering from this condition, it could be helpful to pay attention to the following symptoms:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Tearfulness
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed
  • No longer tending to responsibilities
  • Isolating oneself from friends and family members
  • Failing to attend school
  • Drop in performance at school
  • Acting out behaviors

Physical symptoms:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Persistent headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Chest pains
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Bodily aches and pains

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory disturbances

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feelings of nervousness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Emotional instability
  • Depressed feelings


Effects of child and adolescent adjustment disorder

Because adjustment disorder can significantly impact an adolescent’s functioning, there are several harmful consequences that could happen if treatment for this disorder is delayed or never received. Conversely, if effective care is sought and a teen fully participates in programming, the following effects can be minimized or avoided all together:

  • Loss of meaningful relationships
  • Self-harm
  • Substance abuse, which could lead to addiction or chemical dependency
  • Onset of symptoms of other mental health disorders
  • Academic failure
  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Decreased performance at school

Co-Occurring Disorders

Child and adolescent adjustment disorder and co-occurring disorders

As one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions affecting the lives of adolescents today, adjustment disorder is frequently diagnosed at the same time as other mental disorders. Examples of disorders that are known to exist alongside adjustment disorder include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Anxiety disorders
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Initially, I was afraid to face myself and seek help for my issues. After only a couple of weeks in therapy, my progress was undeniable. My biggest regret is I didn't reach out to Riverview sooner.

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