Developmental disorders are composed of a group of conditions that lead to deficiencies in physical, cognitive, behavioral, language, and learning in children. These disorders usually appear during a child’s developmental stages and often impact daily functioning. These disorders may improve as a child ages, although many of the impairments will persist throughout adulthood.
Developmental milestones include sitting up, crawling, smiling, and walking for the first time. There are a variety of milestones that include ways in which a child plays, learns, speaks, behaves, and moves. All children develop at their own pace – even within the same family – which makes it impossible to predict precisely when a child will learn a specific skill. If your child is not meeting his or her developmental milestones in an appropriate manner, or if you are concerned about your child’s development, don’t wait – make an appointment with your child’s doctor to share these concerns. The earlier a developmental disorder is diagnosed, the earlier treatment can begin, and the more successful the outcomes of treatment can be.
What Causes Developmental Disorders?
Developmental disorders and disabilities may begin to emerge at any point during your child’s developmental period. Most cases of developmental disorders develop in the prenatal period, but some may be the result of birth injury, infections, or other factors. It’s thought that most developmental disabilities are caused by a mixture of factors, which may include:
- Maternal health and behaviors during pregnancy
- Birth complications
- Infections during prenatal period
- Early infant infections
- Exposure to high levels of environmental toxins
Some developmental disabilities may have a known cause, but most do not. It’s important not to blame yourself for your child’s developmental disabilities.
Types of Developmental Disabilities
Developmental disabilities occur along all ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups, and recent estimates in the United States show that one in every six (or 15%) of children between the ages of 3 and 17 have one or more developmental disabilities. The most common developmental disabilities may include the following:
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Children who have ADHD struggle to pay attention, control their impulsive behaviors, or may be overly active. Through a variety of medication, therapies, and home care, ADHD can be managed so that your child can lead a happy, normal life.
Symptoms: Symptoms will vary from child to child, but common symptoms of ADHD include:
- Excessive daydreaming
- Loss of personal items
- Fidgeting and squirming
- Overly talkative
- Takes unnecessary risk
- Difficulty resisting temptation
- Difficulties taking turns
- Challenges getting along with others
Treatment Approaches: In most cases, ADHD is managed with a number of therapeutic interventions, lifestyle changes, and medication management.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs): Children who have autism spectrum disorders suffer a spectrum of developmental disabilities and face challenges with behaviors, social interactions, and communication with others. People who have ASDs process information in the brain in a different way than others. As a spectrum of disorders, children with ASDs are affected in entirely different ways, but share similar symptoms.
Symptoms: The onset, severity, and precise nature of symptoms is different for each child and may include:
- Become upset about minor changes
- Not respond to name by 12 months
- Repeating words and phrases over and over
- Obsessive and specific interests
- Not point at objects to show interest by 14 months
- Not play pretend games
- Avoid eye contact
- Preferring to be alone
- Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings or discussing their own feelings
- Delayed speech or language skills
- Flap hands, rock body, or spin in circles
- Difficulties with sensory stimuli such as the way things taste, smell, and/or feel
Treatment: With appropriate therapies, medications, and home care, people who have ASDs can learn to develop social skills, motor skills, and cope with sensory issues.
Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that impact a child’s ability to properly move and maintain posture and balance. CP is the most common motor difficulty in children with 1 in 323 children living in the United States with the disorder. CP is caused by abnormalities in normal brain development or damage to the developing brain that leads to problems with a child’s ability to control his or her muscles.
Symptoms will vary from person to person and can be very severe or mild, depending upon the severity of the disease and may include:
- Problems with movement
- Problems with posture
- Intellectual disability
- Vision and hearing problems
- Changes in the spinal cord – like scoliosis, kyphosis, lordosis
- Contractures in the joints
Treatment methods to treat CP will be aimed at reduction of symptoms and improving muscle control. Physical, occupational, speech, group, and individual therapy can greatly improve the outcomes for these children. Additionally, there are certain types of medications available to reduce physical problems such as seizures and contractures.
Hearing loss can impact a child’s development of communication, language, and social skills. Hearing loss can occur when any part of the ear – inner ear, outer ear, middle ear, acoustic nerve, or auditory system – is not functioning properly. Hearing loss can occur for a variety of reasons, but one thing is certain: the earlier treatment is received, the better the outcome.
Symptoms of hearing loss are as unique as the child him or herself. Symptoms of hearing loss include:
- No startle response in reaction to loud noises
- Do not turn toward source of sound
- Does not use single words by one year of age
- Delayed speech
- Garbled speech
- Inability to follow directions
Treatment methods will vary from child to child and depend upon the reasons for the hearing loss. Some children learn sign language, others may use a hearing aid or cochlear implant, while others may use medication and therapies to correct certain types of hearing loss.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition in which normal sensory signals are not properly organized into appropriate responses. A child who has sensory processing disorder has challenges in processing and reacting upon information that is received which creates challenges in performing everyday tasks.
Symptoms of SPD will vary from child to child
- Extreme sound sensitivity to sound
- Inability to feel extreme heat or cold
- Low self-esteem
- Difficulties with motor skills
- Social isolation
Treatment for sensory processing disorder will include a number of interventions aimed at your child’s specific needs. This may involve a combination of individual, group, physical, occupational, and speech therapies.
Treatment Techniques for Childhood Developmental Disorders
After we receive a referral for our services from your child’s doctor, we will begin our evaluation process to determine the types of therapies that will be most effective in helping your child. We will work with you to develop a treatment plan for your child to make sure that all of his or her needs are being met – mind, body, and spirit. Treatment techniques for childhood developmental disorders may include:
Individual therapy: our therapists will use a variety of techniques to help children with developmental disorders develop coping skills, work through the emotions they’re facing, and learn new ways of peer relationships. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common technique that we use to help children with negative thought patterns to understand the ways in which their thoughts impact their behaviors.
Group therapy: group therapy is an excellent way for children struggling with developmental disorders to work with their peers through similarly challenging situations. Groups will focus upon a variety of subjects and may include anger management, deep breathing, social skills, positive choices, impulse reduction, actions and consequences, and following directions.
Family therapy: as the inclusion of family and loved ones is vital to treatment of developmental disorders, we meet with our families no less than one time per month. These sessions are led by one of your child’s doctors and are primarily child-focused. We’ll help to make certain we’re all on the same page with your child’s treatment, offer at-home suggestions, and make suggestions as to how you can promote your child’s growth and development.
Medication Management: Sometimes, our children do require medication to help alleviate some of the symptoms of their developmental disorders. In this case, we will work with you and our doctors to ensure your child is on the right medication and right dosage to be successful. Your child will be continuously evaluated to make certain that the medication is working and adjust as needed.
We also provide a number of experiential programs to work with your child. These may include:
- Sensory rooms
- Therapy gym
- Feeding clinicians
- Handwriting without tears
At Ascent Children’s Hospital, we’ve helped many children with developmental disorders and we’re ready to work with you and your family during this trying time.