conduct disorder

Conduct disorders are characterized by a repetitive and persistent pattern of dissocial, aggressive, or defiant conduct. Such behaviour, when at its most extreme for the individual, should amount to major violations of age-appropriate social expectations, and is therefore more severe than ordinary childish mischief or adolescent rebelliousness. Isolated dissocial or criminal acts are not in themselves grounds for the diagnosis, which implies an enduring pattern of behaviour.

Features of conduct disorder can also be symptomatic of other psychiatric conditions, in which case the underlying diagnosis should be coded.

Disorders of conduct may in some cases proceed to dissocial personality disorder (F60.2). Conduct disorder is frequently associated with adverse psychosocial environments, including unsatisfactory family relationships and failure at school, and is more commonly noted in boys. Its distinction from emotional disorder is well validated; its separation from hyperactivity is less clear and there is often overlap.


Diagnostic guidelines >

Judgements concerning the presence of conduct disorder should take into account the child's developmental level. Temper tantrums, for example, are a normal part of a 3-year-old's development and their mere presence would not be grounds for diagnosis. Equally, the violation of other people's civic rights (as by violent crime) is not within the capacity of most 7-year-olds and so is not a necessary diagnostic criterion for that age group.

Examples of the behaviours on which the diagnosis is based include the following: excessive levels of fighting or bullying; cruelty to animals or other people; severe destructiveness to property; firesetting; stealing; repeated lying; truancy from school and running away from home; unusually frequent and severe temper tantrums; defiant provocative behaviour; and persistent severe disobedience. Any one of these categories, if marked, is sufficient for the diagnosis, but isolated dissocial acts are not.

Exclusion criteria include uncommon but serious underlying conditions such as schizophrenia, mania, pervasive developmental disorder, hyperkinetic disorder, and depression.

This diagnosis is not recommended unless the duration of the behaviour described above has been 6 months or longer.