RENO, NEV. -- Social phobia can afflict children as young as 8 years of age and perhaps even younger. But the disorder is more serious in children over age 11, Deborah C. Beidel, Ph.D., said at the annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy.
In addition, a specific kind of behavioral therapy--Social Effectiveness Therapy for Children (SET-C)--seems to lead to long-lasting improvements in children with social phobia, according to a randomized, placebo-controlled trial conducted by Dr. Beidel and her colleagues.
At the meeting, Dr. Beidel, professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park, discussed the results of several studies examining the psychopathology of social phobia in children.
The disorder has a somewhat different presentation in children than in adults. In addition to social fears, children tend to manifest high general anxiety dysphoria, and loneliness. They develop few friendships and exhibit deficits in social skills.
In a study comparing 50 children with social phobia with 19 normal controls, the investigators demonstrated that the socially phobic children had significantly worse reading skills, reading anxiety role-playing skills, role-playing anxiety and role-playing latency.
In a separate study involving 88 children with social phobia, the children were asked to rate how distressing certain situations were on a scale from 0 to 8. Children rated the following school-related situations as 4 or higher on that scale: reading aloud (72%), answering questions in class (70%), asking a teacher for help (61%), writing on the blackboard (51%), taking tests (50%), and working/playing in a group (50%).
They rated these non-school-related situations as 4 or higher: performing publicly (72%), speaking to an adult (72%), parties (64%), starting or …