Developmental, Learning and Behavioural Disorders in Children and Adolescents

Study this course to become adept at understanding developmental and learning disorders in young people, as well as behavioural disorders like ADHD and conduct disorders. Work towards a career helping children.

Course Code: BPS215
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Understanding a Child's Problems is the First Step to Helping Them

Learn about different types of developmental disorders, behavioural disorders and learning disorders and their impact on children and their families. If you work with children in a caring capacity then this course is a must to enhance your knowledge of childhood mental health.

Developmental disorders include pervasive developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (which now includes Asperger's syndrome) as well as Rett's disorder and childhood disintegrative disorder. Each have their own range of signs and symptoms, treatments and possible causes. Behavioural disorders include different types of attention and hyperactivity disorders along with conduct disorders like oppositional defiant disorder. Learning disorders are specific developmental disorders, such as reading disorder. There is some controversy over their inclusion as mental health disorders since a child can have one problem such as dyslexia yet be otherwise 'normal'.

The implications of a developmental disorder can be very significant in later life; if undetected and not responded to. Often though; what might potentially be a major problem in later life can be avoided through the simple act of becoming aware and responding early in life.

This course includes definitions of the aforementioned groups of disorder as well as motor and communication disorders. Take the course to learn how to identify the signs, symptoms and treatments for these different classes of childhood disorder.

The course is ideal for students of health sciences, psychology and counselling and will add to the knowledge of professionals working in related fields. 

Lesson Structure

There are 9 lessons in this course:

  1. Nature and Scope of Developmental Disorders - Learning disability
    • Classification of Childhood Disorders
    • Causes of Developmental Disorders- Genetic Factors, Physical Factors, Environmental Factors
    • A General Overview of the Diagnosis of Developmental Disorders
    • The Prevalence of Developmental Disorders in the General Population
    • The Impact on the Families and Children and Adolescents with Developmental Disorders
    • Learning Disability
    • Co-morbid Disorders
  2. Autism - Autistic Disorder signs, symptoms, treatment and support
    • Causes of Autism
    • Definition of Autism
    • The Signs and Symptoms of Autism
    • Impaired Social Development & Interactions
    • Abnormal Communication
    • Repetitive Behaviour
    • Other Problems
    • The Other Side of the Coin
    • Causes of Autism
    • History of the Perception of Autism
    • Prevalence & Course of Autism in the General Population
    • The Autism Spectrum
    • Issues Facing Children and Adolescents with Autism
    • The Impact of Autism on the Family
    • Treatments for Children and Adolescents with Autism
    • How Parents/Carers and Practitioners can Support Children with Autism
    • Supportive Services for Children and Adolescents with Autism
  3. Asperger's Disorder - signs, symptoms, treatment and support
    • Definition of Asperger’s Disorder
    • The Signs and Symptoms of Asperger’s Disorder
    • 1) Impaired Social Interactions
    • 2) Repetitive Behaviour
    • Causes of Asperger’s Disorder
    • The History of Asperger’s Disorder
    • The Prevalence & Course of Asperger’s Disorder in the General Population
    • Asperger’s Disorder and Autism – The Autism Spectrum
    • The Impact of Asperger’s Disorder on the Child or Adolescent
    • The Impact of Asperger’s Disorder on the Family
    • Treatments Available for Children and Adolescents with Asperger’s Disorder
    • How Parents/Carers and Practitioners can Support Children with Asperger’s Disorder
    • Supportive Services Available for Children with Asperger’s Disorder and Their Family
  4. Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders (Rett's Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Developmental Disorders NOS) signs, symptoms, treatment and support
    • Definition of Pervasive Developmental Disorders
    • Rett’s Disorder
    • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
    • Developmental Disorders Not Otherwise Specified
    • Causes of Developmental Disorders
    • A General View on How Developmental Disorders are Diagnosed
    • The Impact of Developmental Disorders on the Child or Adolescent
    • The Impact on the Family of the Child or Adolescent with Developmental Disorders
  5. Attention-Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders - ADHD & variants, signs, symptoms, treatment and support
    • Signs & Symptoms of ADHD
    • 1) Features of Inattention
    • 2) Features of Hyperactivity-Impulsivity
    • 3) Settings
    • Causes of ADHD
    • Historical Background of ADHD
    • Prevalence & Course of ADHD
    • Treatment of ADHD
    • Support Available
    • Factors that can Aggravate ADD or ADHD Symptoms
    • The Impact of ADD and ADHD on the Child or Adolescent
    • The Impact on the Family of a Child with ADD or ADHD
  6. Conduct Disorders (Include oppositional defiant disorder) signs, symptoms, treatment and support
    • Definition of Conduct Disorder
    • Signs and Symptoms of Conduct Disorders
    • Causes of Conduct Disorders
    • Prevalence & Course of Conduct Disorders in the General Population
    • Definition of Oppositional Defiant Disorder
    • Signs and Symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder
    • Causes of Oppositional Defiant Disorder
    • Prevalence & Course of Oppositional Defiant Disorder in the General Population
    • Anti-Social Personality Disorder (APD)
    • Treatments Available for Conduct Disorders
    • Support for Families and Children with Conduct Disorders
    • The Impact of Conduct Disorders on Children
    • The Impact on the Family of Having a Child with a Conduct Disorder
    • How Parents/Carers and Practitioners can Support Children with Conduct Disorders
  7. Learning Disorders - focus on academia (Mathematics, Reading Disorder - Dyslexia, etc.) signs, symptoms, treatment and support
    • Specific Developmental Disorders
    • Definition of Learning Disorders
    • Reading Disorder (Developmental Dyslexia)
    • Disorder of Written Expression (Specific Spelling Disorder)
    • Mathematics (Arithmetic) Disorder
  8. Communications Disorders & Motor Skills Disorder - focus on speech and language signs, symptoms, treatment and support
    • Definition of Communication Disorders
    • Causes of Communication Disorders
    • Phonological Disorder
    • Expressive Language Disorder
    • Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder
    • Stuttering
    • Motor Skills Disorder
    • Impact on the Child and Family of Communication Disorders
  9. Special Project (choose something of interest to the student) signs, symptoms, treatment and support

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Explain the nature, scope and impact of developmental problems in children and adolescents.
  • Explain autism, including its diagnosis, and appropriate responses that may be made by family, friends, teachers, carers and practitioners.
  • Explain Asperger’s disorder, including its diagnosis and appropriate responses that may be made by family, friends, teachers, carers and practitioners.
  • Explain a range of pervasive developmental disorders, including their diagnosis and appropriate responses that may be made by family, friends, teachers, carers and practitioners
  • Explain a range of attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorders, including diagnosis and appropriate responses that may be made by family, friends, teachers, carers and practitioners.
  • Explain conduct disorders, including its diagnosis and appropriate responses that may be made by family, friends, teachers, carers and practitioners
  • Explain a range of learning disorders, including their diagnosis and appropriate responses that may be made by family, friends, teachers, carers and practitioners
  • Explain a range of communication disorders, including their diagnosis and appropriate responses that may be made by family, friends, teachers, carers and practitioners
  • Create and present a plan of support for a child with a specific condition.


Various factors may contribute to the onset of developmental disorders and these are not always easy to define. For instance, learning disabilities are thought to have many different underlying causal factors and a number of pathological processes are thought to contribute to dysfunction of the central nervous system. Other conditions may have a range of aetiologies. As with adult mental health conditions the causes of childhood disorders are often many and include both environmental and hereditary factors, some of which may be as follows:

1) Genetic Factors
There is some indication that genetics may play a role in the onset of childhood disorders. Certainly, those born to parents with mental health disorders may have a slightly higher risk but it usually depends on their interactions with the environment as to whether these genetic influences are expressed.

Some studies have suggested that genetic factors may have a greater influence in behavioural and emotional disorders, and the psychological traits which can lead to development of these types of disorder. However, sometimes the expression of a disorder may include characteristics of other disorders and sometimes a child may have several different disorders.

Indirect genetic influences may also affect the development of disorders in those predisposed to them. For instance, intelligence and temperament may influence to what degree events are interpreted as being stressful by the child. Infants who respond to new stimuli by withdrawing, slowly responding, or through exaggerated behavioural responses may be more prone to the development of childhood disorders than those who show interest and respond quickly, and exhibit a moderate behavioural response.   

2) Physical Factors
Many different forms of physical illness can bring about childhood disorders and related problems.  Examples include pregnancy-related learning disabilities e.g. foetal alcohol syndrome, issues due to hypoxia at birth, and conditions that can occur due to a general medical condition e.g. brain damage, childhood cancer, meningitis, etc.

The most prevalent physical factor in childhood disorders is brain disorder. Around one third of children with a brain disorder will also have a psychological disorder compared to around 12% of those with a physical illness.

Children with a brain injury are more likely to develop a psychological disorder if they encounter unfavourable psychosocial influences. The likelihood of disorders associated with brain damage seems to increase with severity rather than the location of the injury.

3) Environmental Factors
Many different environmental factors can influence the expression of childhood disorders. These include:
  • Family relations - children thrive on love, security, warmth, support, and consistent and constructive discipline. Steady and regular interactions are known to help develop secure attachments and trust in infants. Parental conflict, poor family relationships and long periods of separation from parents may contribute to mental health issues. Separation anxiety, depression, and delinquency are associated with extended absences of the primary caregiver. It can lead to further problems if the parent avoids attachments when in the presence of the infant, or demonstrates inconsistency in their attachments.
  • Family home - the risk of mental health issues is increased in children who live in overcrowded housing, have low socioeconomic status, have a parent with a mental health disorder, and who are placed in care. Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and neglect are also strong risk factors for mental health problems in children. The more risk factors present the greater the possibility of mental health issues, though children with just one risk factor will not have a rate of disorders significantly higher than those with no risk factors present.    
  • Parental mental health - the presence of a mental health disorder in the parents can affect the mental health of the child, especially if the mother is ill and she is the primary caregiver. In particular, parents with depression may neglect their children and those with schizophrenia might not respond to their children's emotional needs. Children of parents with mental health conditions may have difficulties with social adjustment and be more disruptive. Parents with alcohol and drug related mental health issues may not offer suitable levels of care to their children setting them at a disadvantage.
  • Divorce or death of parents - divorce would seem to have a greater impact on children's mental health than where parents in conflict remain together. In particular the first 12-18 months seems to be a period of high risk. Thereafter, long term effects of divorce are less clear. Death of a parent may result in anxiety related disorders in younger children and depression and conduct disorders in children aged 5 years and older.     
  • Schooling - there is some evidence that pupils who receive praise and encouragement from their teachers and who are given responsibilities tend to be less prone to psychological disorders. Bullying at school and cyber-bullying are also known to cause acute stress to victims, which can influence the onset of problems - though the long term impact is not fully understood.
  • Community - the local community may also pose specific risk factors for a child's mental health. In particular, poorer mental health outcomes are associated with overcrowding, lack of community support and involvement, poor amenities, lack of areas to play, limited access to health services.

How This Course Could Help You

Childhood is a crucial time in our lives - a time when we pass through developmental milestones and continue developing through adolescence into adulthood. For some children and teenagers there are problems along the way. This course focuses on some of those problems in the form of developmental, learning and behavioural disorders. Studying this course will help students to make sense of disorders in these groups through their presenting features as well as become aware of what types of treatment options are available.

The course is of most value to people who are working in, or proposing to work in: 

  • Youth work
  • Child and adolescent counselling
  • School counselling
  • Teaching
  • Child psychology
  • Caring roles
  • Youth coaching
ACS is an Organisational Member of the Association for Coaching (UK).
ACS is an Organisational Member of the Association for Coaching (UK).
ACS is a Member of the Complementary Medicine Association.
ACS is a Member of the Complementary Medicine Association.
Member of Study Gold Coast Education Network.
Member of Study Gold Coast Education Network.
ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.
ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.

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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Jacinda Cole (Psychologist)

Psychologist, Educator, Author, Psychotherapist.
B.Sc., Psych.Cert., M. Psych. Cert.Garden Design, MACA
Jacinda has over 25 years of experience in psychology, in both Australia and England. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Psychology and a Masters in Psychology (Clinical) and also trained in psychoanalytic psychotherapy at the London Centre for Psychotherapy. She has co-authored several psychology text books and many courses including diploma and degree level courses in psychology and counselling. Jacinda has worked for ACS for over 10 years.

Lyn Quirk

M.Prof.Ed.; Adv.Dip.Compl.Med (Naturopathy); Adv.Dip.Sports Therapy
Over 30 years as Health Club Manager, Fitness Professional, Teacher, Coach and Business manager in health, fitness and leisure industries. As business owner and former department head for TAFE, she brings a wealth of skills and experience to her role as a tutor for ACS.

Tracey Jones (Psychologist)

B.Sc. (Psych), M.Soc.Sc., Dip.Social Work, P.G.Dip Learning Disability, Cert Editing, Cert Creative Writing, PGCE.
Member British Psychological Society, Member Assoc. for Coaching, Member British Learning Assoc.
25 years industry experience in writing, editing, education, psychology, and business. Tracey has several books and hundreds of articles published; in both fiction and non fiction.

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