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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 1, Lesson 4

Causes of Prevalent Developmental Disabilities and Disorders (continued)


Major Health Impairments

Toddler holding stethascopeCongenital heart defects refer to defects in the structure of the heart or heart blood vessels (e.g., defective heart valve, hole in heart chamber). Congenital heart defects occur during the development of the fetus. Typically the cause of the heart defect is unknown but can be genetic in nature. Children with Down syndrome or Turner syndrome sometimes have congenital heart defects. Other causes of congenital heart defects are associated with maternal infections, medications (i.e. anticonvulsant agents, or maternal diseases such as diabetes). Approximately 8 out of 1,000 individuals have heart defects.

Sickle cell anemia or disease is a genetic disorder where some red blood cells are shaped like sickles (instead of disk-shaped) and have a shortened life span resulting in anemia. The sickle cell trait is inherited from one parent; sickle cell anemia is transmitted from both parents. Sickle cell anemia is the result of abnormal hemoglobin (hemoglobin S).

Cystic fibrosis is a disorder that produces abnormal mucus which causes progressive lung damage and affects the absorption of fat and protein in the body (Blackman, 1990). Cystic fibrosis is the most common inherited chronic disease among white children, 1 in every 2,000 live births. In blacks, cystic fibrosis occurs in about 1 in every 20,000 live births and in Asians, 1 in every 100,000 live births.

Infectious diseases

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) refers to a damaged immune system that functions ineffectively and is a result of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Most children under the age of 3 will get AIDS from the mother who has HIV either transmitted during pregnancy, at the time of birth, or from breast feeding. Children can also contract AIDS through contaminated blood in transfusions or child abuse that is sexual in nature (Caldwell & Rogers, 1991).

Meningitis is an infection of the meninges (covering) that surrounds the brain and spinal cord (Blackman, 1990). Meningitis can be caused by a bacterial (seriously threatening) or viral (less threatening) infection. Newborn children can acquire meningitis during the birth process coming in contact with organisms from the mother's intestinal tract and/or vagina. For children two months to three years of age, meningitis can be caused by one of three organisms: meningucoccus, pneumococcus, or haemophilus influenzae. The incidence of meningitis in full term infants is 0.13 per 1,000 live births, increasing to 2.24 for preterm infants. Meningitis is the second highest cause of hearing loss in young children.

Encephalitis occurs when the brain is inflamed and is generally caused by a virus or infection such as measles or mumps. Such viruses can be spread from person to person or from mosquitoes or ticks and or rabies. Incidence of encephalitis is hard to determine due to diagnostic difficulties that lead to incidences being unreported.

Hepatitis B is an inflammation of the liver and is caused by the Hepatitis B virus. Even though there are several types of hepatitis, Hepatitis B is the most prevalent in children with disabilities. Children who have hemophilia, are in accidents or who undergo surgical procedures and require blood are at high risk. According to Bauer and Shea (1986), special education teachers are at high risk of contracting Hepatitis B

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a member of the herpes virus family and usually causes no problems for healthy individuals. However, about 7 to 10% of unborn children of women who get CMV for the first time or have a reactivation of infection during pregnancy will have symptoms at birth or will develop disabilities including hearing loss, mental retardation, small head size, and delays in development. Infants can be infected with CMV during or soon after delivery. Infection can occur as the infant progresses through the birth canal of an infected mother, consumes breast milk from a mother who has the virus, or receives a blood transfusion contaminated with CMV.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

A spectrum of developmental and physical effects on the fetus has been associated with maternal ingestion of alcohol during pregnancy. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) incidence rates for FAS range from 3 to 6 cases per 1,000 live births. FAS is one of the most prevalent known causes of mental retardation and the most preventable.


Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder characterized by impairments in at least one of the following areas: social relatedness, communication, and play skills with onset prior to age three. Autism is more prevalent in males. There is no known unique cause of autism. Autism is thought to be caused by brain dysfunction during gestation although most children with autism do not have a brain injury detectable by medical assessments. There are some medical indications that heredity can be a factor in autism. Also, exposure to viruses such as rubella and cytolomegalo virus, infections such as meningitis, and exposure to toxins and pollutants have also been thought to cause autism. The identification of children with autism has drastically increased over the past few years. In 1998, Florida recorded a 573% increase as reported in the Miami Herald in October,1999.


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