Pediatric Generalized Anxiety Disorder

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Both children and adolescents occasionally experience the anxiety that accompanies stressful events. Alarmingly, it isn’t uncommon that many children and teens in the US are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders and co-occurring disorders like depression and separation anxiety disorder (SAD) have a dramatic effect on a child’s quality of life. Generalized anxiety disorder is one of the most common types of anxiety disorders, and unfortunately, it affects a large portion of the pediatric population.

Children with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are described as having uncontrollable feelings of fear that are overwhelming and excessive in nature. These children persistently worry about before, during, and after a daily activity has happened. Generalized anxiety disorder is estimated to affect 15% of children in the US with an age of onset of 8.5 years. The exact cause of pediatric GAD is unclear and disputed among many professionals; however, it’s widely believed that there are both biological and environmental etiologies.

For example, parents with pre-existing anxiety may transfer the same affliction to their children genetically. Alternatively, children who are being raised by overprotective parents attempting to reduce anxious behaviors are at-risk of manifesting GAD. Children and adolescents will report private events like physical pains that include: heart palpitations, muscle tension, stomach aches, and headaches. Some notable overt behavioral manifestations include insomnia, latching onto family members, and a severe lack of attention. Covert behaviors are marked by feelings of nervousness, fatigue, stress, and restlessness. Involuntary actions such as sweating, hyperventilation, increased heart rate, and trembling are commonly observed symptoms.

Surprisingly, children with isolated GAD do not typically produce anxious behaviors when conversing, and they can maintain normal conversation with their peers. There are skills that are slightly impacted, but these issues are not significantly problematic when it comes to a child’s communication repertoire. Children with GAD have problems with assertiveness, give minimal eye contact with partners, interject with fewer comments, and ask fewer questions during conversation. In addition, children with GAD have smaller groups of friends, yet they are still preferred over children with other anxiety disorders, especially those with social phobia (SP). Although GAD does not have a profound effect on communication by itself, social skills are greatly impaired when other disorders are present. For example, in children with ASD and comorbid GAD: the social use of language is weakened;

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