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Child Dev. 1984 Feb;55(1):30-48.

Classification of childhood psychopathology: a developmental perspective.


The absence of a comprehensive, objective, and reliable system for classifying emotional and behavior problems in children has slowed the advancement of knowledge in the field of developmental psychopathology. This paper provides a developmental framework for the classification of psychopathology in children and highlights the potential contributions that such classification may have toward the understanding of normal development. The salient issues derived from this developmental perspective are concerned with the continuity between childhood and adult psychopathology, and the definition of normality and adaptation in the context of development. The implications of the continuity issue for classification are that (a) the validity of adult criteria for use with children should be explored further, (b) the diagnosis of a childhood disorder at 1 point in time is not necessarily dependent upon there being episodes of the disorder at a later time, and (c) the focus of classification should not be limited to isolated behaviors and traits, but rather should emphasize patterns of adaptation. Moreover, it is suggested that judgments about normality and dysfunction should be made relative to what is expected given the child's age, sex, environmental context, developmental task, level of functioning, and phase in the progression through development. This paper provides a conceptual framework that will facilitate the construction of a more developmentally relevant system of classification.

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