Can Children Be Diagnosed With Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?

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Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is usually diagnosed in adulthood or late adolescence. But can children suffer from this serious psychiatric condition?

Unfortunately, there exists a paucity of academic research published on this particular topic, but some research and evidence relating to the question does exist, some of which I look at here.

Anecdotal Evidence Reported By Parents Of Adult Children With A BPD Diagnosis :

Whilst anecdotal evidence is not scientific, many scientific theories, hypotheses and research projects are preceded by, and have their foundations in, anecdotal evidence, so it shouldn’t automatically be contemptuously dismissed. So what is the anecdotal evidence that has been collected from parents?

Many parents with (now grown-up) children who have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (the adult children, not the parents) have reported that signs of BPD in their offspring started to show in early childhood and included the following :

  • particular proneness to worry
  • particular proneness to bouts of sadness
  • a greater than normal need for attention
  • hypersensitivity, especially in relation to criticism
  • proneness to becoming very easily frustrated
  • a susceptibility to developing physical symptoms in response to stress (called psychosomatic illness) such as headaches and stomach upsets
  • proneness to irritability, anger, rage and temper tantrums
  • easily upset

However, it is important to point out that not all parents of adult children diagnosed with BPD reported that these offspring had such childhood symptoms.

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Studies Related To The Question Of Whether Children Can Be Diagnosed With Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

In 1983, Cohen et al (Yale University) devised a set of diagnostic criteria for children suffering from what they called borderline syndrome; however, after further research they renamed the condition multiple complex developmental disorder (MCDD). This disorder incorporates three main categories of symptoms which are as follows :

  • poorly controlled (regulated) emotions
  • impaired perception and thinking
  • markedly disturbed relationships

NB The above symptom categories also occur in borderline personality disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. (It should be noted, too, that MCDD has not been included in either DSM IV or ISD-10).


MCDD is also associated with anxiety conditions, psychotic thought processes and disruptive behaviour (de Bruin et al, 2007)

Physiological Basis :

Cohen also pointed out that many of these children were found to have physiological brain disturbances and believed that there was a biological basis to MCDD. This adds further to the obvious argument that children affected in such a way are in crucial need of understanding, treatment and therapy – not judgment.

Vital Importance Of Early Detection And Treatment:

Whilst it may well be stigmatizing to be ‘labelled’ with borderline personality disorder (or similar condition), early detection of the disorder, or of symptoms displayed in those at risk of developing such conditions, is vital so that effective therapy may be started. The earlier detection and effective, sensitive, expert treatment begin, the better are likely to be the results of treatment (indeed, if left untreated, such conditions are likely to become more severe, entrenched and complex).

 

Finally, it must once again be reiterated that environmental factors / childhood trauma / childhood abuse are strongly linked to the development of BPD and similar conditions. In other words, a child with a genetic/biological predisposition that puts him/her at risk of developing BPD, or similar condition, may not do so if s/he grows up in a secure, loving stable family, whereas a child similarly genetically/biologically predisposed is at far greater risk of doing so.

 

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

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