Developmental Disorders, by definition are always diagnosed during a child's development (ages 0 to about 11 years). These disorders are pervasive. That is they have a negative impact on many of a child's areas of functioning such as language, coordination, learning, behavioral flexibility, adaptableness, sensory systems, and social skills. These problems can be very mild or subtle, or severe and debilitating. The early and accurate diagnosis of a developmental disorder in childhood is essential because these disorders are most successfully treated if the treatment starts when the child is as young as possible.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD's)
•High Functioning Autism (HFA)
•Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS)
•Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
Children with ASD’s show patterns of uneven development and pervasive delays starting as early as 12 months or younger but usually noticed by age three, and as late as by age 10. Delays in and difficulty with social relationships, communication, and inflexible patterns of behavior are the three major areas that must be closely assessed. The diagnosis of Autism is based on the child consistently demonstrating at least six of the following symptoms, with at least two of the first four: difficulty with eye contact, inadequate social relationships, a lack of sharing a focus with others, a lack of reciprocity with others, delay or absence of language, difficulty initiating or maintaining a conversation, repetitive or unusual use of language, a lack of spontaneity in play, obsessive preoccupations, inflexibility, repetitive or stereotyped movements, and overly selective attention. Sadly, about 70% of children diagnosed with Autistic Disorder also have measured intellectual functioning within the range of Mental Retardation. The approximate 30%, who have an IQ’s in at least the average range, are diagnosed with High Functioning Autism (HFA). Asperger’s Disorder is very similar to Autistic Disorder, but individuals with Asperger’s never have a delay in language, and usually have intellectual functioning within at least the average range. PDDNOS is diagnosed when a child shows a pattern of uneven social, language, and behavioral development, but does not meet enough of the criteria for Autistic Disorder for that diagnosis. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder is diagnosed when a child develops normally for at least two years and then shows a sudden loss of language, social, adaptive, play, and motor skills as well as a loss of bowel or bladder control and a pattern of social, communication and behavioral inflexibility similar to that seen in children with Autism. Rett’s Disorder is only seen in females and is diagnosed when the child’s development during pregnancy and through the first five months of life is entirely normal, but is followed by severe losses of purposeful hand use, social engagement, coordination, and expressive and receptive language and declines in head growth by between 5 and 30 months of age.
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Reactive Attachment Disorder: This is a problem seen in children under 5 years of age who have been exposed to persistent neglect. Care-giver neglect can include disregard of the child’s need for emotional comfort, stimulation, and affection, or neglect of the child’s basic needs (food, water, sleep, etc.), or repeated changes of the care-giver such that the child never gets to emotionally bond. The child then develops a either a pattern of behaviors that show fear of social interaction or attachment (Inhibited Type), or a pattern of indiscriminate sociability including excessive familiarity with strangers (Disinhibited Type).
Learning Disabilities: A learning disability is diagnosed when a child has difficulty in one specific area of learning in spite of not having such difficulty in other areas of learning. Technically, the child’s poor skill in the one specific area is inconsistent with their overall good intellectual functioning. The child’s difficulty can be in reading, writing, coordination, math, receptive or expressive speech. Many children with learning disabilities have secondary emotional problems because of the difficulties presented by school, homework, competition with peers and siblings, and the pressures of well intentioned parents.
Mental Retardation: A child is diagnosed with Mental Retardation when they consistently score well below average on standardized measures of both intellectual functioning (learning ability), and adaptive behavior (the ability to do things independently). The level of Mental Retardation is defined statistically as Mild, Moderate or Severe based on a person’s scores on these tests of IQ and adaptive behavior. Adults and children with Mental Retardation also suffer from anxiety, depression, and other psychological problems and benefit from the techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy as demonstrated in various research studies
Cerebral Palsy: The term cerebral palsy refers to any one of a number of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination but don’t worsen over time. Even though cerebral palsy affects muscle movement, it isn’t caused by problems in the muscles or nerves. It is caused by abnormalities in parts of the brain that control muscle movements. The majority of children with cerebral palsy are born with it, although it may not be detected until months or years later. The early signs of cerebral palsy usually appear before a child reaches 3 years of age. The most common are a lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (ataxia); stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes (spasticity); walking with one foot or leg dragging; walking on the toes, a crouched gait, or a "scissored" gait; and muscle tone that is either too stiff or too floppy. A small number of children have cerebral palsy as the result of brain damage in the first few months or years of life, brain infections such as bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis, or head injury from a motor vehicle accident, a fall, or child abuse.