Early Childhood

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Developmentally Sensitive Diagnostic Standards for Mental Health Disorders in Early Childhood

Table of Content



Research Question5

Aims and Objectives6

Purpose of the Research6


Diagnostic Classification in Early Childhood8

Approaches to the Diagnostic Classification of Early Childhood Psychopathology10

Research Paradigm11


Research Design12

Literature Search12

Sampling and Data Collection Methods13

Qualitative Research13

Quantitative Research16

Data Analysis17

Good Practice Issues19





Time Table22




Developmentally Sensitive Diagnostic Standards for Mental Health Disorders in Early Childhood



It has been difficult for us as a society to recognize suffering in infancy and early childhood. Recent history provides dramatic examples of this fact. In the 1940s, using films that movingly showed infants' distress, René Spitz described infantile grief (analytic depression) and other forms of infantile suffering arising from emotional deprivation (Spitz, 1945, pp. 144-155). Nonetheless, the general implication of Spitz's work was subject to doubt and strong criticism for some time (see the controversy about the validity of his descriptions and disputes about developmental testing that were waged in Psychological Bulletin—and the historical review of the controversy). The medical community's lack of recognition of child maltreatment until the 1960s (Helfer, 1974, pp. 101-105) is another example of our reluctance to recognize young children's suffering.

Resistance to children's emotional and physical suffering has not been confined to early childhood. Paediatric depression was not recognized as a valid psychiatric disorder until the 1970s, and then only at the end of the decade was it included in textbooks of psychiatry (McKnew, 1980, pp. 112-120). Over the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of knowledge about the recognition and intervention of mental health disorders in children (first adolescents, then school-age children; Costello, 2009, pp. 45-55). The relatively young field of infant mental health now has the opportunity to address these same issues in preschool children, toddlers and infants.

The early childhood mental health field emerged from the growing recognition that very young children experience impairing mental health problems that warrant social and clinical intervention (Shapiro, 1976, pp. 67-71). Initially, the field's focus was on infants and toddlers, but the infant mental health field now spans the period from birth through age five years. Our use of the term infant mental health in this article refers to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Currently, our understanding of the nosology, epidemiology, assessment, and treatment of most mental health symptoms and syndromes in early childhood lags far behind our knowledge about mental health problems and their treatments in school-age children and adolescents (Angold, 2006b, pp. 122-130). It is only recently that programs of research have begun to apply standardized nosologies and measurement approaches familiar from the study of older children to the study of early childhood psychopathology. As the infant mental health field has turned its focus to the presentation, course, and treatment of clinically significant mental health disorders, the need for reliable and valid criteria for identifying and assessing mental health symptoms and disorders in early childhood has become urgent.

In this research, we will do critical perspective on diagnostic classification of mental health disorders in young ...
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