More U.S. Children Being Diagnosed With Youthful TendencyDisorder

Dori Berger
Sat, 9 Feb 2002 14:07:21 -0500

Hey guys:  What do you make of this?  Why isn't
this Asperger's combined with ADHD ?

REDLANDS, CA--Nicholas and Beverly Serna's daughter
Caitlin was only four years old, but they already knew there was
a problem.

Day after day, upon arriving home from preschool, Caitlin would
retreat into a bizarre fantasy world. Sometimes, she would pretend
to be people and things she was not. Other times, without warning, she would
burst into nonsensical song. Some days she would run directionless through
the backyard of the Sernas' comfortable Redlands home, laughing and
shrieking as she chased imaginary objects.

When months of sessions with a local psychologist failed to yield
an answer, Nicholas and Beverly took Caitlin to a prominent Los Angeles
pediatric neurologist for more exhaustive testing. Finally,
on Sept. 11, the Sernas received the heartbreaking news: Caitlin was among a
growing legion of U.S. children suffering from Youthful Tendency Disorder.

"As horrible as the diagnosis was, it was a relief to finally know,"
said Beverly. "At least we knew we weren't bad parents. We
simply had a child who was born with a medical disorder."

Youthful Tendency Disorder (YTD), a poorly understood neurological
condition that afflicts an estimated 20 million U.S. children, is
characterized by a variety of senseless, unproductive physical and mental
exercises, often lasting hours at a time. In the thrall of YTD, sufferers
run, jump, climb, twirl, shout, dance, do cartwheels, and enter unreal,
unexplainable states of "make-believe."

"The Youthful child has a kind of love/hate relationship with
reality," said Johns Hopkins University YTD expert Dr. Avi Gwertzman. "Unfit
to join the adult world, they struggle to learn its mores and rules in a
process that can take the entirety of their childhood. In the meantime,
their emotional and perceptive
problems cause them to act out in unpredictable and extremely juvenile ways.
It's as though they can only take so much reality;
they have to 'check out,' to go Youthful for a while."

On a beautiful autumn day in Asheville, NC, six-year-old Cameron
Boudreaux is swinging on a park swingset--a monotonous, back-and-forth
action that apparently gives him solace. Spotting his
mother on a nearby bench, Cameron rushes eagerly to her and
asks, "Guess what?" His mother responds with a friendly, "What?"

 With unbridled glee, Cameron shouts, "Chicken butt!"--cryptic
words understood only by him--before laughing and dashing off again, leaving
his mother distraught over yet another baffling non-conversation.

"I must admit, it's been a struggle," Mary Boudreaux said. "What
can I say to him when he says something like that, something that makes no
sense? Or when he runs through the house yelling while
I'm trying to balance the checkbook? You can't just say, 'Please, Cameron,
don't have a disorder for just a few minutes so I can concentrate.'"

Cameron's psychological problems run even deeper. He can
name every one of his beloved, imaginary Pokemon characters,
but the plain realities of the actual world he inhabits are an enigma: Ask
Cameron the name of the real-life city councilman sponsoring the referendum
to renovate the park just across the street from his house--a park he plays
in daily--and he draws a blank.

According to Dr. Dinesh Agarwal, director of child psychiatry at
NYU Medical Center, such disconnectedness from reality is a
coping mechanism for YTD sufferers. "The Youthful child is born
into a world he or she does not fully understand," Agarwal said. "Their
brain pathways are still forming, and they need to repetitively relearn how
to assimilate into society. These disassociative play-fantasies apparently
help them accomplish that."

But such fantasies come at a price, producing in Youthful children
a disinterest in the everyday responsibilities of life bordering on

"Jesse knows when it's his turn to take out the trash. We've gone over the
house rules a dozen times," said Richard Torres, a Davenport, IA, father of
three whose nine-year-old son Jesse was recently diagnosed with YTD. "And
still he neglects the job time
and again."

Slowly, methodically, through an elaborate system of rewards
and punishments, Jesse has shown improvement. But the road ahead is long.

"We get a lot of platitudes from the so-called experts," Torres
said. "We hear a lot of, 'Oh, he'll grow out of it, just give it time.'
That's easy for them to say--their kid's not running around the neighborhood
claiming to be Superman."

Help for families struggling with YTD may soon be on the way. At
last month's annual AMA Convention, Smithkline-Beecham
unveiled Juvenol, a promising YTD drug which, pending FDA approval, could
reach the U.S. market as early as next spring. Already available in France
and Sweden, Juvenol, the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet reported, resulted in
a 60 percent
decrease in running and jumping among users.

But until such help arrives, the parents of YTD sufferers can do
little more than try to get through each day.

"I love my child with all my heart," said Alexandra Torres,
Jesse's mother. "But when he's in the throes of one of his
skipping fits, it's hard not to feel a little envious of parents with
normal, healthy children."

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