Developmental Disorders

Developmental disorders fall into two main categories. In specific developmental disorders, a child has one or more skills, for instance language, reading, motor coordination or spelling, that are delayed or develop at a slower pace than other skills. There are also pervasive developmental disorders in which the distortion and delay of a child's functioning is manifested in a more global manner.

Experts prefer to call specific learning disorders "learning, motor, and communication disorders." These disorders include a long list of deficits that tend to occur in clusters. A general list of these disorders includes central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), attention deficit disorder/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), dyslexia, dysgraphia (writing difficulty), dyspraxia (motor clumsiness) and dyscalculia (math dyslexia).

The study of these disorders is still in its infancy, but experts believe these deficits are caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Most of these disorders have a neurological basis, yet ADD/ADHD is classified as a psychological disorder to be treated with psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin.

Pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), on the other hand, affect the child's patterns of communication, both verbal and nonverbal. As a result, social interactions are stilted. In addition to these issues, children with PDD may have restricted or repetitive activities and interests.

Only in recent times has there been an attempt to classify developmental disorders and these efforts have not been very successful. It has been necessary to keep the definitions loose to encompass the various manifestations of these disorders, which tend to vary from child to child in great detail.

In the 1960s, the term learning disability (LD) was first coined. The term has been useful insofar as it covers wide ground, but the term is also nonspecific and tends to cause a great deal of confusion. It is impossible to define LD as a single set of symptoms, which confuses the picture for anxious parents of LD children and for society at large. In addition to these issues, the loose definitions affixed to the various disorders have both helped and hampered states in crafting laws designed to provide children with developmental disorders with the education and assistance they need and deserve.

Children who show signs of developmental disorders need to be assessed at an early stage. For one thing, such testing can help pinpoint a child's level of functioning and offer a profile of his or her strengths and weaknesses. Cognitive testing is also imperative for proving dysfunction to those who will decide on a course of therapy and education for the child, such as a state department of education. It has also been demonstrated that the brain is more plastic when children are young and that therapies offer the greatest benefits at the earliest stage of a child's development.

Some of the tests in common use for measuring a child's cognitive skills (from age 2 and above) include the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale (fourth edition), Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children - Revised, Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale - Revised, McCarthy Scales of Children's Abilities and the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children. For newborns until age 2, the Cattell Infant Intelligence Scale and the Bayley Scales of Infant Development have been in wide use for many decades. There are many other tests in use for the purpose of assessing cognitive functioning, such as the Psychoeducational Profile, which is administered to children with autism.

A parent may not notice symptoms of autism in a child until he or she is at least 15 to 18 months old and sometimes not until the child is 3 years old. The child may not learn to speak and may shy away from or be disturbed by social contact. In Asperger syndrome, a higher-functioning form of autism often thought of as a condition separate from autism, the child may have strange social mannerisms or play in an idiosyncratic manner.

In ADD/ADHD, a child as young as 2 may fidget with hands and feet and may find it hard to sit still. The child may be easily distracted and have trouble delaying impulses or following a list of instructions. A child with ADD/ADHD may find it hard to concentrate on tasks, may talk too much or interrupt other people.

Children with LD will have trouble with one or more skills such as reading, writing, speaking, listening, doing math or reasoning. Often these issues coexist with ADD/ADHD. These issues may not be spotted before the child is of school age.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Developmental Disorders: Diagnostic Criteria and Clinical Assessment
Stephen R. Hooper; George W. Hynd; Richard E. Mattison.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992
Atypical Cognitive Deficits in Developmental Disorders: Implications for Brain Function
Sarah H. Broman; Jordan Grafman.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1994
Handbook of Psychological Treatment Protocols for Children and Adolescents
Vincent B. Van Hasselt; Michel Hersen.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "The Adolescent with a Developmental Disability" begins on p. 522
Children with Handicaps: A Review of Behavioral Research
Gershon Berkson.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Causes of Developmental Disorders"
Ellis' Handbook of Mental Deficiency, Psychological Theory and Research
William E. MacLean Jr.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997 (3rd edition)
Social Work Early Intervention for Young Children with Developmental Disabilities
Malone, D. Michael; McKinsey, Patrick D.; Thyer, Bruce A.; Straka, Elizabeth.
Health and Social Work, Vol. 25, No. 3, August 2000
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
LONG-TERM CARE FOR PEOPLE WITH DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES: A Critical Analysis
Palley, Howard A.; Hollen, Valerie Van.
Health and Social Work, Vol. 25, No. 3, August 2000
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Child Psychopathology
Eric J. Mash; Russell A. Barkley.
Guilford Press, 2003 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Nine "Autistic Disorder"
The World of the Autistic Child: Understanding and Treating Autistic Spectrum Disorders
Bryna Siegel.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Advanced Abnormal Child Psychology
Michel Hersen; Robert T. Ammerman.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 17 "Pervasive Developmental Disorders: The Spectrum of Autism"
What about Me? Growing Up with a Developmentally Disabled Sibling
Bryna Siegel; Stuart Silverstein.
Plenum Press, 1994
Caring for Children with Neurodevelopmental Disabilities and Their Families: An Innovative Approach to Interdisciplinary Practice
Claudia María Vargas; Patricia Ann Prelock.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Asperger Syndrome
Ami Klin; Fred R. Volkmar; Sara S. Sparrow.
Guilford Press, 2000
Controversial Therapies for Developmental Disabilities: Fad, Fashion, and Science in Professional Practice
John W. Jacobson; Richard M. Foxx; James A. Mulick.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
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