Each child is different and so are their needs. Understanding your child's unique needs is an important part of being a parent. We understand the significance of learning about a child’s special needs. That is why in this blog, we will help you understand two of the most common developmental disorders in children, their root cause, diagnosis, and symptoms with treatment options.
We'll also be discussing how these presumably incurable diseases are being treated with scientific breakthroughs.
But before we move forward, let us look into what developmental disorders are…
What Are Developmental Disorders?
Developmental disorders can affect a child's intellectual, physical, and behavioral aspects. In some cases, they may also impact vision, motor coordination, and speech1. These disorders are medical conditions in which a child may have problems with acquiring everyday life skills, academics, and learning2.
Children with developmental disorders may also have trouble paying attention, remembering details, problem-solving, and possessing social skills3. These symptoms become noticeable when they are young or at a growing stage1.
Each child may experience developmental disorders with different severity4. Many children may have a mild impairment, while others may need additional physical assistance. Some may even require assistive technology to live independently5.
It is important to identify and treat developmental disorders in children while they are young so that they can receive proper attention and care4.
What Causes Developmental Disorders?
Apart from genetic and hereditary factors, certain anomalies and nervous system damage can also cause developmental disorders in children.
We humans have a delicate nervous system, which is vulnerable especially during its rapid development stage2. This development stage begins at gestation (the time between conception and birth) and continues until early childhood6. It is possible for a baby to acquire developmental disorders if his/her nervous system is afflicted by chemicals, maternal infection, or any other medical condition7.
Many other factors, including prenatal and neonatal stress, nutritional deficiencies, infection, trauma, and exposure to toxic chemicals, can also cause these disorders2.
In the next section, we'll be discussing 2 of the most common developmental disorders for children- Autism and Cerebral Palsy.
Autism Spectrum Disorders- ASD
ASD is a disorder that affects children's social, behavioral and communication skills. This disorder can be caused by genetic conditions. ASD can limit a child’s ability to express their emotions well8.
However, the abilities of an individual with ASD can vary greatly from one person to the other. For example, some people could be very good speakers while others might not even be vocal. Similarly, some children may need help daily, while others can manage with minimal-to-no assistance8.
Autistic children have difficulties in social interaction and forming relationships. Various examples of social interactions & communication in children with ASD may include9:
- Avoiding eye contact
- Not responding to their names after 9 months
- Unable to interact after 12 months
- Unable to express emotions, like anger, happiness, etc. by the age of 9 months
- Limited interaction with other people or their surroundings by 15 months
- At 36 months of age- not showing interest in playing with other children
ASD treatments currently focus on reducing symptoms to allow individuals to manage their daily lives. That is why most of its treatments consist of specialized therapies, these treatments are broken down into educational, behavioral and developmental categories as well as social-relational and pharmacological ones12.
Each of these categories help autistic children to gain some pivotal skills, which further helps them with acquiring other significant life skills. An example of a pivotal skill is to start a conversation or communication with others.
In addition to above, there are specific developmental approaches. These developmental skills focus on improving physical, verbal or a broader range of interpersonal skills12.
Cerebral Palsy- CP
Cerebral means ‘related to the brain’, and Palsy means ‘problems with the function of muscles.’ Cerebral palsy is caused when a child has abnormal or damaged brain development affecting their ability to control muscles13.
Unlike ASD and ADHD(Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), CP is a group of disorders that impact a child’s ability to walk, move, or even maintain a posture. Many children with CP also have associated conditions such as joint problems, seizures, issues with speech, hearing, or vision, and adverse changes at the spine- scoliosis13.
Cerebral palsy has severity in symptoms that diversifies amongst children, meaning some may need mechanical assistance even to eat food. In contrast, others could walk a little awkwardly but may not require external help13.
Symptoms of cerebral palsy do not usually become apparent until 2-3 years of age. The majority of CP symptoms are related to coordination, movement/ mobility, and the child’s development14.
Signs that depict a cerebral palsy possibility are:
- Weak arms and legs
- Muscle spasms
- Shaking hands
- Too stiff or flaccid posture- hypotonia
- Uncontrolled body movements
- Significant delays in developmental milestones - such as not being able to sit by 8 months of age
1. Developmental Monitoring
Developmental monitoring may help your doctor diagnose whether a child has reached or can reach developmental milestones. These milestones may consist of basic skills such as communication, motor skills, learning, etc.
2. Developmental Screening
A developmental screening test determines if the child suffers from motor or movement delays. Some screening tests can be done by the parents through questionnaires or interviews, while the doctor may ask some questions to the child. Experts suggest that your child must be screened for developmental progress during regular checkups at 9, 18, 24, and 36 months of age16.
3. Developmental And Medical Evaluations
These screening methods focus on specific disorders that may affect a child. For instance, the doctor will check your child's motor skills, reflexes, posture, and muscle tone to evaluate movement or motor delays. Apart from this, parents' medical history is also taken into consideration.
Nationwide initiatives taken by the government organizations have encouraged parents to be more aware about their children’s special needs. One such program is Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram17, under which children are screened for any developmental disorders and are given subsequent Early Intervention Services. These Early Intervention Services consist of various systemic approaches, for early identification of the disease, support and treatment.
Early intervention services for children with CP could help them learn and acquire new skills from as young as 36 months of age; these services could also be practiced even before the diagnosis is made18.
Depending on the child’s needs and the severity of CP, early intervention services may assist the child and the family with counseling, family training, home visits, speech & physical therapy, assistance with coordination, and transportation facilities.
Umbilical Blood Transplantation - A Potential Treatment
Both Cerebral palsy and ASD were considered permanent conditions that didn't have a cure until recently.
At Duke University, Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg and his team performed more than 100 cord blood transplants for children with rare metabolic conditions. These metabolic disorders could lead to severe cognitive and physical impairments if left untreated. Some could even lead to death19.
This groundbreaking medical experiment demonstrated the life-saving potential of cord blood transplants. Children with metabolic disorders benefited from transplants by improving their cognitive function.
Researchers also speculate that similar treatments might be available to children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as Cerebral Palsy or Autism. Potential treatment options may include intravenous infusion of Cord Blood Mononuclear Cells (MNC)- a component of the blood that has both mature and immature stem cells. However, this treatment is still in its experimental stage20.
Medical science has come a long way and we’re all witness to it. Today, not only can we cure disorders, but we can do early detection of many critical conditions. The advancements in technologies and continuous research has made it possible to detect the possibility of several critical genetic conditions. You must be wondering how it’s possible? Well, it is possible today! And one such test that makes it possible is GenomeScope NICU and GenomeScope Newborn. Tests like these can help you detect genetic conditions early - if any and help you plan a better treatment plan for your baby under the guidance of your doctor.