Schizophrenia, psychoses, and childhood and developmental disorders can severely reduce normal human functioning. The components comprising these disorders vary widely, and defining and understanding each within contexts appropriate for the individual, especially when defining childhood illness. Identifying and understanding these components assists in creating more effective therapeutic applications, intervention, and prevention of these disorders (Hansell & Damour, 2008).
Components of Schizophrenia
Contemporary research implicates brain structures and functions in the biology of schizophrenia. This disorder is more accurately understood by its complex neurodevelopmental basis rather than the dopamine hypothesis which claimed excessive dopamine in the neural system explained the development of schizophrenia. Evidence suggests the predisposition is inherited, but the genetic factor must interact with environmental factors such as viruses, toxins, drug use, and injuries sustained prior to birth (PubMed Health, 2010).
Freud believed biological factors were mostly responsible for schizophrenia and did not believe psychotherapy could help effected individuals. Freud thought all abnormal and deviant behavior had its genesis in repressed internal conflicts, and believed such repression could predispose an individual to schizophrenia (Hansell & Damour, 2008). Current psychodynamic theorists agree on the biological and behavioral components of the disorder and use psychotherapy to help the individual understand their underlying conflicts and adopt more adaptive responses to habituate normal behavior.
Research has focused on a specific type of hyper attentiveness that is common in schizophrenia. Such over-attention, when combined with stressors may exacerbate or create the disorder in individuals with a predisposition (Chopra, Soreff, & Khan, 2009). According to Hansell and Damour (2008), one of the positive symptoms of schizophrenia is the inability to block irrelevant stimuli which may create a predisposition conducive to promoting extraordinary credence to hallucinations and delusions. Further complications arise when affected individuals try to explain such delusional experiences to themselves (Capps, 2003).
Behavioral theorists focus on the role of learning more adaptive behaviors to alleviate some of the problems of social integration and social withdrawal. Behaviorists focus on the biological factors that predispose the individual to maladaptive learning, and by reinforcing new behaviors, help the individual to regain a more accurate cognitive perspective. Excessive attention to self and the environment causes schizophrenics to react to stimuli to which the average individual does not. By identifying stimuli to which attention should be given, the individual is taught how to behave normally (Hansell & Damour, 2008).
Components of Psychosis
Research has implicated diseases such as brain tumors or cysts, degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson's and Huntington's, epilepsy, stroke, and some prescriptions medications such as steroids and stimulants (PubMed Health, 2010). Psychoses can be a part of bipolar disorder, delusional disorder, depression with psychotic features, and some personality disorders.
Although usually based on biological components, psychotic episodes, whether transient or persistent are frightening and emotionally exhausting. Furthermore, psychosis is a socially marginalizing disorder because of the inability to maintain a connection to reality (PubMed Health, 2010). Some psychodynamic theorists support underlying emotional repression as a cause in some types of psychoses, but usually biological components are emphasized (Hansell & Damour, 2008).
In some cases such as in schizoaffective disorder, associated mood disorders can contribute to the creation of negative schemas which contribute to further depression. Therapies appropriate for other mood disorders can help to regain a more average perspective to alleviate perpetuating negative patterns of thinking. Talk therapy can help the individual minimize social marginalization (PubMed Health, 2010).
Depending on the cause of the psychosis, risky behavior, such as manic, self-harming, or overly sexual behaviors can cause complications for the affected individual. Often behavior modification, usually with the help of medication, can help the individual create new patterns of behavior more acceptable for average functioning.
Components of Lifespan Development and Childhood Disorders
Ordinarily, mental retardation has a biological basis, the most significant of which are genetic abnormalities, metabolic deficiencies, and prenatal complications (Hansell & Damour, 2008). Postnatal complications such as shaken baby syndrome can also cause mental retardation. Similarly, learning disorders have genetic influences and are associated with brain abnormalities (National Institutes of Health, 2011). Autism is caused by biological factors, although research continues to address the biological factors as underlying predispositions which are exacerbated by environmental factors. Childhood anxiety may have a genetic basis as well, although mostly seen in intrinsic personality traits or temperament (Hansell & Damour, 2008).
Various psychodynamic theorists suggest some childhood disorders have contributing factors such as the home and academic environment, socioeconomic status, and less than ideal parent-child relationships. Underlying emotional components such as distress are significant contributors to disruptive and attention deficit disorders (National Institutes of Health, 2011). The inability to keep up with other children stigmatizes affected children, which can cause further psychological damage, and associated behaviors can marginalize them and exacerbate emotional distress (Hansell & Damour, 2008).
Many children with learning disorders feel anxious and depressed regarding their lack of academic achievement and manifest frustrations by acting out in school. Children and adolescents with disruptive behavior disorders often have a distorted sense of the behavior of others and misattribute hostility. To affect the hostility, they create aggressive solutions to their problems without consideration to their consequences (Hansell & Damour, 2008). Behavioral interventions can help treat individuals with autism by increasing function with learning new skills and rewarding more articulate use of speech. Autism is spectrum of disorders and any behavioral intervention must take into account the individual abilities and capacities of the affected child (Hansell & Damour, 2008).
Although schizophrenia, psychoses, and childhood and lifespan developmental disorders may appear to have little in common, each has significant underlying biological components that cause cognitive, emotional and behavioral effects. By assessing each component, psychology gains a more representative perspective of every aspect of the disorders - a prerequisite for more effective and targeted treatments designed to accommodate the dimensional character of mental illness (Hansell & Damour, 2008).
Hansell, J., & Damour, L. (2008). Abnormal psychology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
National Institutes of Health. (2011). Learning Disorders: MedlinePlus. National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. Retrieved May 23, 2011, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/learningdisorders.html
PubMed Health. (2010). Schizoaffective disorder. Retrieved May 12, 2011, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/
Chopra, S., Soreff, S., & Khan, R. (2009). Delusional disorder. Medscape Reference. Retrieved May 24, 2011, from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/292991-overview