Background. Changes in the diagnosis of endocrine-based growth disorders and the advent of biosynthetic growth hormone have altered the long-standing policy of treating only those individuals with "classic" growth hormone deficiency. One justification for treating short children is to improve their psychosocial adaptation. The present investigation assessed the positive and negative behavioral adaptation, self-perceptions of domain-specific competencies, and global self-worth of a large, diagnostically heterogeneous sample of children and adolescents referred to pediatric endocrinologists for a growth evaluation.

Methods. All patients seen in a pediatric endocrine clinic (180 boys and 78 girls; 4 to 18 years) with a height at the fifth percentile or lower were included. Parents of all participating children completed the Child Behavior Checklist. Patients 8 years and older completed the Self-Perception Profile and those 11 years and older, in addition, completed the Youth Self Report. Short-stature (SS) subjects were compared with normative and psychiatric samples.

Results. The SS boys were described by parents as being significantly less socially competent and showing more behavioral and emotional problems than a normative sample selected for mental health. However, they were significantly more socially competent and showed fewer psychopathologic symptoms than a psychiatric referred sample of comparable age. The SS boys described themselves as less socially active but did not report more behavior disturbance than the normative sample. The SS boys' self-perceptions of domain-specific competencies and global self-worth were comparable to a normative comparison group with the exception that older subjects (13 years or older) described their athletic abilities more positively and their work competence more negatively. The SS girls were, with few exceptions, indistinguishable from the normal comparison groups on both parent- and self-report measures of social competency and behavior disturbance. Younger SS girls (ages 8 to 12 years) described their athletic competence and behavioral conduct more positively than the comparison group on the self-esteem questionnaire. Patient height deficit was unrelated to scores on the three questionnaires. Finally, no statistically significant differences in psychosocial functioning were detected between children with "normal-variant" SS and those with pathologic growth disorders.

Conclusions. Short-stature girls show more adaptive psychosocial functioning than SS boys. In either sex, SS does not appear to be associated with clinically significant psychosocial morbidity. Severity of the height deficit does not correlate with the level of behavioral adaptation. These observations challenge the justification of providing growth hormone therapy for all short children to improve their psychosocial functioning.

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