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What Parents Need to Know About Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

Chances are you may not have ever heard of “Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder,” but if you are the parent of an “impossibly ornery” child, you probably have seen its symptoms.

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) is a psychiatric condition that occurs in children and adolescents, involving irritability and “poor emotional regulation.”

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It is a fairly new diagnosis recently added to the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5, the diagnostic “bible” for mental illness, put out by the American Psychiatric Association.

Similar to many new disorders in the DSM-5, the addition of DMDD was not without some controversy. Researchers that study this disorder have expressed concerns with the criteria that are used to diagnose DMDD and the high probability that the disorder could be misdiagnosed as a behavioral disorder such as oppositional defiant disorder.

According to the DSM-5, to be diagnosed with DMDD a child must meet several of the criteria below between the ages of 6 and 18.

  • Severe temper outbursts (either verbal outbursts such as yelling, behavioral outbursts such as physical aggression, or a combination thereof).
  • These outbursts are severe considering the situation and inappropriate for the child’s developmental age.
  • The outbursts occur on average three or more times per week and multiple times per day.
  • Symptoms occur in at least three settings (e.g. school, home, and public).

As you might imagine from the criteria above, it’s important that children and adolescents undergo an in-depth psychological evaluation by a trained psychologist to ensure they’re properly diagnosed with DMDD. Given that younger children under age 6 may exhibit some of these behaviors as part of normal development, this diagnosis should not be given prior to that age.

How Is DMDD Treated?

Like most emotional or mental disorders in children and teens, DMDD is treated with a combination of psychological treatment and medication. Treatment of DMDD is intended to primarily reduce emotional outbursts and teach children and their parents to manage negative emotions without losing control or being aggressive.

Therefore, treatment options may include cognitive behavioral therapy to help identify situations that trigger anger and to help children think differently about how they perceive situations with others that may lead to an emotional outburst, as well as other ways to help the family as a unit, to manage the condition.

Although symptoms of DMDD can negatively impact a child’s life and performance in school, treatment can help reduce these difficulties and help improve the child’s quality of life. Early intervention is particularly important to reduce the child’s risk of having psychological difficulties in adulthood.

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