Childhood is a syndrome which has only recently begun to receive serious attention from clinicians. The syndrome itself, however, is not at all recent. As early as the 8th century, the Persian historian Kidnom made references to "short, noisy creatures," who may well have been what we now call "children." The treatment of children, however, was unknown until this century, when so-called "child psychologists" and "child psychiatrists" became common. Despite this history of clinical neglect, it has been estimated that well over half of all Americans alive today have experienced childhood directly (Suess, 1983). In fact, the actual numbers are probably much higher, since these data are based on self-reports which may be subject to social desirability biases and retrospective distortion. The growing acceptance of childhood as a distinct phenomenon is reflected in the proposed inclusion of the syndrome in the upcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, or DSM-IV, of the American Psychiatric Association (1990).There are also many different models to describe the problem The Sociological is the most compelling:
Emile Durkind was perhaps the first to speculate about sociological causes of childhood. He points out two key observations about children: 1) the vast majority of children are unemployed, and 2) children represent one of the least educated segments of our society. In fact, it has been estimated that less than 20% of children have had more than fourth grade education. Clearly, children are an "out-group." Because of their intellectual handicap, children are even denied the right to vote. >From the sociologist's perspective, treatment should be aimed at helping assimilate children into mainstream society. Unfortunately, some victims are so incapacitated by their childhood that they are simply not competent to work. One promising rehabilitation program (Spanky and Alfalfa, 1978) has trained victims of severe childhood to sell lemonade.Treatment:
Efforts to treat childhood are as old as the syndrome itself. Only in modern times, however, have humane and systematic treatment protocols been applied. In part, this increased attention to the problem may be due to the sheer number of individuals suffering from childhood. Government statistics (DHHS) reveal that there are more children alive today than at any time in our history. To paraphrase P.T. Barnum: "There's a child born every minute." The overwhelming number of children has made government intervention inevitable. The nineteenth century saw the institution of what remains the largest single program for the treatment of childhood -- so-called "public schools." Under this colossal program, individuals are placed into treatment groups based on the severity of their condition. For example, those most severely afflicted may be placed in a "kindergarten" program. Patients at this level are typically short, unruly, emotionally immature,and intellectually deficient. Given this type of individual, therapy is essentially one of patient management and of helping the child master basic skills (e.g. finger-painting). Unfortunately, the "school" system has been largely ineffective. Not only is the program a massive tax burden, but it has failed even to slow down the rising incidence of childhood. Faced with this failure and the growing epidemic of childhood, mental health professionals are devoting increasing attention to the treatment of childhood. Given a theoretical framework by Freud's landmark treatises on childhood, child psychiatrists and psychologists claimed great successes in their clinical interventions. By the 1950's, however, the clinicians' optimism had waned. Even after years of costly analysis, many victims remained children.The Good News:
After years of this kind of frustration, startling new evidence has come to light which suggests that the prognosis in cases of childhood may not be all gloom. A critical review by Fudd (1972) noted that studies of the childhood syndrome tend to lack careful follow-up. Acting on this observation, Moe, Larrie, and Kirly (1974) began a large-scale longitudinal study. These investigators studied two groups. The first group consisted of 34 children currently engaged in a long-term conventional treatment program. The second was a group of 42 children receiving no treatment. All subjects had been diagnosed as children at least 4 years previously, with a mean duration of childhood of 6.4 years. At the end of one year, the results confirmed the clinical wisdom that childhood is a refractory disorder -- virtually all symptoms persisted and the treatment group was only slightly better off than the controls. The results, however, of a careful 10-year follow-up were startling. The investigators (Moe, Larrie, Kirly , & Shemp, 1984) assessed the original cohort on a variety of measures. General knowledge and emotional maturity were assessed with standard measures. Height was assessed by the "metric system" (see Ruler, 1923), and legume appetite by the Vegetable Appetite Test (VAT) designed by Popeye (1968). Moe et al. found that subjects improved uniformly on all measures. Indeed, in most cases, the subjects appeared to be symptom-free. Moe et al. report a spontaneous remission rate of 95%, a finding which is certain to revolutionize the clinical approach to childhood. These recent results suggests that the prognosis for victims of childhood may not be so bad as we have feared. We must not, however, become too complacent. Despite its apparently high spontaneous remission rate, childhood remains one of the most serious and rapidly growing disorders facing mental health professional today. And, beyond the psychological pain it brings, childhood has recently been linked to a number of physical disorders. Twenty years ago, Howdi, Doodi, and Beauzeau (1965) demonstrated a six-fold increased risk of chicken pox, measles, and mumps among children as compared with normal controls. Later, Barby and Kenn (1971) linked childhood to an elevated risk of accidents -- compared with normal adults, victims of childhood were much more likely to scrape their knees, lose their teeth, and fall off their bikes. Clearly, much more research is needed before we can give any real hope to the millions of victims wracked by this insidious disorder.