Dr. Dombeck, I have a friend whose daughter and granddaughter recently moved back in with her. My friend is extremely worried because her granddaughter, who seemed normal the last time she saw her at age 10 months, is now behaving in a bizarre manner at the age of two. This child refuses to eat, appears panicked whenever someone other than her mother makes eye contact or walks near her, tears out her own hair in clumps and patches, bangs her head against the wall. My friend is fearful for her granddaughter’s health, and the well-being and safety of those that are in the household as well. What in the world could be wrong with this girl? Is it too early to get psychiatric help?
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I’m no child expert – lets get that straight from the start. However, this situation seems no more normal to me than to you. I have to recommend that your granddaughter be evaluated by a pediatrician and either a child-psychiatrist or child-psychologist in the near future. Surely, your suspicions merit a checking-out by someone with the expertise to be able to advise properly. There are a variety of developmental and psychiatric disorders that can occur in childhood (such as autism, mental retardation, depression, etc.). Likewise, there are a variety of less-than-optimal situations that a child can be in (such as abuse, diet problems, etc.) that could possibly produce behavior such as you are witnessing. Don’t try to figure it out for yourself. Just bring your granddaughter (and daughter) to the proper medical authorities soon.