Development Disorders in Childhood

Development Disorders in Childhood


Development disorders in children occur in a wide range of types and causes. A number of these disorders are mainly brain disorders, while others have more to do with the child’s behaviour. Neurochemical problems or structural abnormalities of the brain cause brain-based disorders which the child from birth or shortly after. Other brain-based childhood disorders may be as a result of physical stress such as emotional distress from loss or trauma, illness or injury. Behaviour-based development disorders on the other hand, are visible signs of difficulty which an otherwise healthy child displays at home, at school, or among friends. There is a somewhat arbitrary division between brain-based and behavioural developmental disorders in many cases. For instance, a brain-based disorder such as ADHD will have a significant effect on the behaviour or the child both at home and at school, and vice versa. Common childhood development disorders include Autism, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, Conduct Disorder and Adjustment Disorders. Development disorders in children can be difficult for parents to identify, so that many children who could benefit from treatment are unable to get the help they need. Continuous research into development disorders in childhood is helpful to provide further insight into the various disorders affecting children, their symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and how parents and other caregivers can help.


Autism is a lifelong neurological developmental disorder that disrupts normal brain development, affecting proper social interaction, behaviour, cognition, communication and other features of good brain development in a child. Autism is recognised as a spectrum disorder because many of its characteristic symptoms appear in a variety of combinations which affect children in a number of ways. While certain children endure serious challenges and need help to cope, others may be able to carry on with their lives independently, with less help.

Autism symptoms can be identified in mild, moderate or severe forms within the first three years of a child’s life. Symptoms vary from one child to the other, and may also change as the child grows older. With the right therapy, the child can be taught useful skills to improve their quality of life.

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Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder is another neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the learning, concentration and behaviour of the affected person, leading to impulsive behaviours, over-activity and persistent unrest. Children diagnosed with ADHD may face difficulty handling daily tasks at school and in the home. ADHD is one of the most common childhood developmental disorders and may linger throughout adolescence and into adulthood.

Treatment for ADHD may include a combination of counselling, therapy, remedial and behavioural education training. The severity of symptoms, personality and health condition of the child determines the type of treatment required. In many cases, the affected children learn to cope with ADHD and go on to lead normal lives.

Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder is a set of continuous behavioural and emotional problems displayed by children or adolescents with no concern for the needs or rights of others. Conduct disorder goes beyond what is considered acceptable or normal behaviour and can be a source of worry, concern or even fear to others. This disorder is among the most frequently diagnosed in both inpatient and outpatient mental health facilities.

Symptoms of conduct disorder in children and adolescents is divided into four main categories:

  • Aggression to people and animals – intimidating, bullying, fighting, threatening, cruelty to people and animals, theft and use of a weapon while confronting a victim
  • Serious violation of rules such as truancy before the age of thirteen, running away or breaking curfew.
  • Destruction of property – arson or deliberately destroying others’ property
  • Lying and theft

Even though not all youngsters with symptoms of conduct disorder go on to become hardened criminal adults, a consistent adequate medical, social, educational and emotional support system is required for many years. Teenagers with severely disturbed behaviour can therefore go on to live meaningful lives as productive members of the society.

Frequently Asked Questions about Development Disorders in Childhood

Where can I get an ADHD diagnostic evaluation for my child?

Your community and the insurance plan your child is covered by will determine where you seek evaluation. The person in charge of the evaluation should be a trained professional who can identify children’s behaviour, emotions and development. He or she should ideally be specialised in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD.

Is there a specific test to diagnose ADHD?

No, there is no one test that can be used for ADHD diagnosis. However, professionals who are trained in assessing the development and behaviour of children can carry out a comprehensive assessment to ascertain whether or not an individual has the disorder.

What are the signs I can use to tell if my child has autism?

Early signs of autism may be exhibited in children as young as 8 to 12 months. Parents should therefore be on the lookout for symptoms such as lack of sharing of sounds back and forth, smiles or any other facial expression in 9 months old children; lack of babbling, pointing or any other imitation gestures at 12 months; or if the child quits babbling, loses speech or social skills at any age.

Will my child get better with time?

While some children improve with time, other children might require ongoing expert help. Let your child’s doctor know about problems that are severe, continuous or affecting regular activities. It is also important to get help as soon as possible. Early treatment has a better chance of effectiveness.

How do I know if my child’s problems are serious?

Not all problems are serious. Actually, different everyday stresses can lead to noticeable changes in your child’s behaviour. It is important to be able to differentiate between a child’s typical behaviour and those resulting from more serious issues.

How can children with conduct disorders be treated?

Different treatment methods exist to help children diagnosed with conduct disorders. Parent management training, family therapy, individual therapy and social skills training are some of the most effective psychotherapy treatments used to address the issue. The patient can therefore learn to talk about his or her feelings and discover healthier ways of handling difficult situations.


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