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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 1, Lesson 4

Some of the more prevalent developmental disabilities and disorders with children birth to three are listed below under specific categories. This is by no means an all inclusive list of developmental disabilities and disorders that may be seen in a child birth to three years of age but should be used as a guide for various disorders prevalent today.

Prevalent Developmental Disabilities and Disorders

  • Chromosomal Abnormalities
    • Down syndrome
    • Fragile X syndrome
  • Neuromotor Impairments
    • Traumatic brain injury
    • Cerebral palsy
    • Seizure disorders
    • Spina bifida
  • Degenerative Diseases
    • Muscular dystrophy
  • Orthopedic and Musculosketal Disorders
    • Scoliosis
    • Juvenile Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sensory Impairments
    • Visual impairments
    • Hearing Impairments
  • Major health impairments
    • Congenital heart defects
    • Sickle cell disease
    • Asthma
    • Cystic fibrosis
  • Infectious diseases
    • AIDS/HIV
    • Meningitis
    • Encephalitis
    • Hepatitis B
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  • Autism

Causes of Prevalent Developmental Disabilities and Disorders

Below are brief summaries of some of the known causes of prevalent developmental disabilities and disorders. As with many disorders, some causes are still unknown.

Chromosomal Abnormalities

Down syndrome, sometimes called trisomy 21, is one example of a condition caused by chromosomal abnormalities. Children with Down syndrome receive three number 21 chromosomes instead of two. In addition to other concerns, children with Down syndrome are at high risk for vision and/or hearing impairments that will further affect their development. Down syndrome occurs in about 1 in 600 to 800 live births. Incidence of Down syndrome increases with the age of the mother, 1 incidence per 100 live births for women 40 years of age or older.

Fragile X Syndrome is another example of a condition caused by chromosomal abnormalities. Fragile X results from a brittle or separated X chromosome. The incidence of Fragile X Syndrome is 1 in 1,500 males and 1 in 2,500 females.

Neuromotor Impairments

baby is with young girl and   baby they are sitting on blue blanket playing with a chain toyNeuromotor impairments are a result of inadequate functioning of nerve cells or neurons which transmit information from the brain to other parts of the body. When there is some sort of injury, dysfunction, or disease in one or more of the elements of the nervous system, some neuromotor impairments can occur such as traumatic brain injuries, cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, and spina bifida.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) can affect a child's physical, cognitive, language, and/or emotional development. Traumatic brain injuries can be a result of child abuse such as Shaken Baby Syndrome and also occur accidentally. According to Bagamato and Feldman (1989) one of the most frequent causes of TBI is accidental falls. Car accidents and outdoor accidents (playing) are also common causes of TBI.

Cerebral palsy is a disorder of muscle control or coordination resulting from malfunctioning of or damage to the brain prior to, during, or within the first years of life (Blackmon, 1990). Cerebral palsy affects a child's motoric abilities, communication, cognition, and adaptive behavior skills. There are a number of causes associated with cerebral palsy prior to birth (prenatal), during birth (perinatal) or after birth (postnatally). Prenatal causes include infections such as rubella and toxoplasmosis, genetic diseases such as microcephaly, and risk factors such as placental insufficiency and toxemia of pregnancy. Perinatal causes of cerebral palsy include lack of oxygen supply during the birth process, and high concentrations of bilirubin in the blood. Postnatal causes of cerebral palsy have been identified such as meningitis and encephalitis, strokes, or anoxia (lack of oxygen) possibly due to near-drowning for example (Nelson & Ellenberg, 1986). All of these causes result in the child with cerebral palsy also being at high risk for vision and/or hearing impairments. The incidence of cerebral palsy is most often reported as 1.5 to 2 per 1,000 live births. The incidence of cerebral palsy is said to be higher among infants with low birth weight.

Common neuromotor disorders also include seizure disorders. The term epilepsy is generally used to describe chronic seizure disorders. Depending on the type of seizures, characteristics of seizures can be described as an involuntary disruption in the central nervous system that comes on suddenly and can sometimes cause an altered state of consciousness, motor activity, sensory phenomena, or inappropriate behavior that lasts a limited, but varied amount of time (Berkow, 1992; Holmes, 1992). Seizures can be caused by various means: drug overdose, infections, high temperature, and chemical imbalances. Seizures that occur over a long-term are considered to be a disorder. Seizures can occur for unknown reasons, called idiopathic which can result from a brain insult or more metabolic abnormalities (Berkow). Seizures that have an underlying cause, called symptomatic usually involves brain abnormalities, such as tumors, aneurysms, or abnormalities in the blood system or brain structure which may occur during fetal development or even later. In many occasions, seizures occur more frequently in individuals who have disabilities such as cerebral palsy, TBI, and mental retardation. Seizure disorders occur in 0.5 percent of the general population.

Spina bifida is a spinal cord defect that often results in paralysis and sensory loss and is one of the most serious neurodevelopmental disorders. Spina bifida occurs when the vertebral column has a defective closure. Several environmental causes have been suggested as possible causes of spina bifida: lack of folic acid and other vitamins and maternal illnesses and medication use (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 1992; Sandford, Kissling, & Joubert, 1992; Rosa, 1991). The incidence of spina bifida is about 1 in ever 1,000 live births making it one of the most common developmental defects of the nervous system. Introduction of folic acid can reduce the incidence of spina bifida by 50%.


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