Kids: Their Brain, Behavior, and Thoughts

By Paige Stetson

The brain is more than just an organ. It is a collection of our memories and thoughts, our window to subjective experience, and the engine behind human perceptions. Neurological disorders and mental illnesses alter the otherwise fine-tuned, intricate workings of the brain, affecting the lens with which one perceives and makes sense of  life. Though many brain disorders are treatable, their influences are often life-altering and persistent. The youth of children’s minds does not protect them against mental illness and brain abnormalities. Perhaps it is the undeveloped nature of the brain affected that magnifies the condition and its impediments for children and adolescents. The statistics are startling: one in every ten children faces the challenges posed by neuropsychiatric disorders.

Autism, one such disorder, is a developmental disorder that is usually diagnosed in toddlers by the time they are three years old. Its impacts on the lives of children are varied and scattered, with some affected children experiencing little impediment and others experiencing severe developmental issues. Autism directly influences how an individual interacts with the world, creates relationships, and effectively communicates. The future for autism research is vast and its need is critical. Currently, studies are being conducted in order to understand the efficacy  of medications like valproate and risperidone on autism. Additionally, DNA and hereditary traits are being discovered as crucial links for the development of this disorder. The double helix may just hold the formula for a cure.

Depression often starts at a young age in children and the proportion of those affected climbs with age until adolescence. It normally involves extended periods of severe sadness, changes in behavior, loss of appetite, an inability to sleep, and difficulty in day-to-day functioning. This mental illness is rampant internationally, and not without devastating effects, as evidenced by recent hikes in suicide rates. Depression in children and adolescents often escalates in severity as they enter adulthood. Medication, such as some serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and the use of psychotherapy (in a group, family, or individual setting) can be used as a treatment in young individuals. A complete societal transition may need to be taken in order to halt this ascending issue of depression. Steps to destigmatize and rid depression of its negative connotation can make children and teens, who are already heavily influenced by the opinions of those around them, more willing to reach out for help when needed without fear of others’ judgments. After all, it is impossible to look into the mind of another.

Tourette’s Syndrome originates from anomalies in neurotransmitters in the brain and is largely influenced by genetics. This brain disorder manifests itself externally by the involuntary production of noises and movements. The symptoms for Tourette’s Syndrome are visible in children at a young age. The disorder does not inhibit development, but some degree of tutoring and therapy for school is often necessary to ensure that children and adolescents with Tourette’s do not see their condition as a hindrance. Interestingly, scientists have discovered a strong correlation between OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and Tourette’s syndrome. This relationship gives hints to the genetic nature and possible similarities in the underlying causes of both disorders.

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Autism, depression, Tourette’s Syndrome, and many other disorders of the mind influence the lives of millions of children today. Mental illnesses and brain abnormalities do not politely halt their attacks until their victim reaches a certain age. Their impact is real. Their expression is tangible. Their existence must first be understood in order for a treatment or a cure to be found. The youth of today may be seen as naïve, lethargic, and radical, but, regardless, they are the future. Their health is imperative. The minds of children today are responsible for the making of tomorrow.

Vivian Lu