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Neurodevelopmental Disorders: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


Neurodevelopmental disorders are conditions that result from impairments during the growth and development of the brain and the central nervous system. They comprise different types namely motor disorders, communication disorders, learning disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and intellectual development disorder. Symptoms include hyperactivity, anxiety, depression, and impulsivity. The diagnosis process includes a thorough evaluation of the behavioral and medical histories of patients, genetic assessment, and physical observation. Medication and therapy are the most effective treatment remedies used. There are numerous therapy techniques used for each disorder depending on the symptoms and type of impairments. Research has led to the development of evidence-based therapies such as occupational therapy (OT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that are used as treatment methods. Parent education and training are necessary because guardians are key components in the prevention and management of neurodevelopmental disorders in children.


Neurodevelopmental disorders are conditions that involve impairments in the normal growth and development of the brain or the central nervous system (Fleischhacker & Brooks, 2006). In the medical field, the term is usually sued to refer to any disorder that alters brain function and its various cognitive functions such as feeling, self-control, learning, memory, and information processing. The disintegration of these functions happens as an individual grows from childhood to adulthood. The term is also used to refer to autism and autism spectrum disorders because of their high rate of prevalence in the world. These disorders usually affect people during the early stages of development. The developmental deficits associated with neurodevelopmental disorders affect the personal, social, academic, and occupational functioning of victims (Fleischhacker & Brooks, 2006). In certain cases, two or more disorders occur simultaneously in the same person. Several therapeutic methods and medications have been developed for the treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders.


Neurodevelopmental disorders set in during the early stages of development during childhood. In many cases, symptoms are identified before a child joins grade school. The disorders are very lethal because they affect people during the most critical stage of human growth and development. The early stages of child development are characterized by rapid growth and development of the brain and the central nervous system. The onset of these disorders alters the development process and result in impairments and deficits that affect victims’ abilities to learn, socialize, and function normally.


The major causes of neurodevelopmental disorders include genetic impairment, immune dysfunction, infectious diseases, metabolic disorders, and pervasive emotional disturbances (Fleischhacker & Brooks, 2006). Research has shown that all neurodevelopmental disorders are associated with genetic impairments in certain genes. For example, Down syndrome is caused by an impairment that involves the inclusion of an extra chromosome (Hansen & Rogers, 2013). These impairments cause functional limitations that limit the cognitive capabilities of affected individuals. Certain disorders have been associated with immune reactions during pregnancy (Kormakaz, 2011). Reactions within the mother’s and child’s systems are highly lethal to optimal development. Examples of immune reactions that cause disorders include Sydenham’s chorea and the Pediatric Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with streptococcal infection (PANDAS) (Hansen & Rogers, 2013). Infectious diseases such as measles, syphilis, and congenital rubella syndrome cause neurodevelopmental disorders if they are not identified and treated early. They are usually transferred from the mother to the unborn child during pregnancy or at birth (Krakowiak 2012). Metabolic disorders such as diabetes mellitus and phenylketonuria also cause neurodevelopmental disorders by altering a child’s metabolic pathways and neural development (Hansen & Rogers, 2013). Other causes include nutritional deficits and brain trauma. Nutritional deficits and excesses cause disorders because they impair development due to lack of important elements or oversupply of certain elements that cause toxicity (Krakowiak 2012).


Symptoms vary from disorder to disorder. However, they all have common symptoms that originate from impairment in the growth and development of the brain and central nervous system. They include compulsive activity, anxiety, depression, social isolation, learning disabilities, stereotyped behavior, aggression, withdrawal, loss of self-control, and emotional instability (Hansen & Rogers, 2013). Victims experience limitations in their abilities to learn, socialize, and function normally. In addition, they experience difficulties in practicing self-control and staying calm. Other symptoms include sleep disturbances, repetitive behaviors, and self-injury (Mouridsen & Hauschild, 2011).


Neurodevelopmental disorders are identified based on their effect on the growth and development of the brain and the central nervous system. Major types include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), motor disorders, communication disorders, learning disorders, and intellectual development disorders (Fleischhacker & Brooks, 2006). Disorders belonging to the aforementioned types include Schizophrenia, Autism and autism spectrum disorders, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, traumatic brain injury, Mendelssohn’s syndrome, and Down syndrome (Hansen & Rogers, 2013). Examples of motor disorders include stereotypic movement disorder, Tourette syndrome, and developmental coordination disorder. Examples of autism spectrum disorders include autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) (Hansen & Rogers, 2013). Communication disorders are grouped into learning disorders, and speech and language disorders.


Diagnosis criteria involve a thorough evaluation of the physical, medical, and behavioral histories of patients. The behavioral analysis aims to identify the presence of certain behaviors. The process also incorporates a review of the patient’s developmental and symptom history. Psychometric evaluation, genetic evaluation, and neurological assessment are also conducted (Hansen & Rogers, 2013). Neurodevelopmental disorders exhibit a wide range of symptoms that make them difficult to diagnose. The different mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical aspects of the symptoms necessitate the use of differential diagnosis. Differential diagnosis is used because many disorders have similar symptoms that can result in misleading outcomes (Hansen & Rogers, 2013). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders outlines the diagnosis criteria for the various types of neurodevelopmental disorders. Diagnosis involves identifying the prevalence of comorbidities to determine the specific deficits and impairments associated with each disorder (Fleischhacker & Brooks, 2006). For example, individuals with communication and motor disorders have certain impairments and deficits that help to identify them.

Treatment plans

There are no specific treatment remedies for neurodevelopmental disorders. However, medication and therapy have been shown to help victims manage the effects of the disorders. Studies have shown that genetic manipulation and medication can reverse specific molecular, behavioral, and electrophysiological deficits that cause certain disorders (Farmer, Donders, & Warschausky, 2006). On the other hand, studies have shown that reactivation of brain plasticity using medication and specialized therapy is an effective way of correcting cognitive impairments. Therapy is aimed at improving the communication, academic, cognitive, and social interaction skills of victims (Farmer et al., 2006). Effective treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders involves the concerted efforts of psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, and language and speech therapists. Short-term treatment plans usually involve the use of medication to address disorder symptoms. On the other hand, long-term treatment plans involve the use of both medication and therapy. Therapy alters the behavior of individuals while medication addresses the symptoms (Farmer et al., 2006). Research has shown that the most effective treatment plans incorporate aspects of both medication and therapy. In addition, many long-term treatment plans target specific neurobiological impairments caused by disorders. Non-pharmacological treatment remedies include physical therapy, social skills therapy, behavior therapy, speech/language therapy, and special education services (Farmer et al., 2006).

Parent education and training

Parental involvement in the treatment and prevention of neurodevelopmental disorders is very important. Parents help and support their children to understand their disorders, their effects, and how they can improve specific skills for an optimal living (Kormakaz, 2011). Parent education and training are necessary because parents can only help their children if they understand the dynamics of neurodevelopmental disorders. To improve the social skills of affected children, parents need to address anxiety and sensory overload issues and use role-playing to improve the effectiveness of underdeveloped social skills (Farmer et al., 2006). In addition, they should use different instruction techniques to explore various forms of communication. Teaching children about personality types that people exhibit is necessary because it helps them to develop skills that enhance optimal interaction and communication with peers. Lowering levels of anxiety and depression enhances concentration and focus (Kormakaz, 2011). Parents also need to seek help and support from medical professionals regarding the best ways to take care of children with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Evidence-based therapies

Several evidence-based therapies have been developed for the treatment of specific neurodevelopmental disorders. For example, family therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and skills training have been shown through research studies to be effective treatment remedies for schizophrenia (Hansen & Rogers, 2013). CBT is the most effective psychotherapeutic treatment method for schizophrenia. Variations of evidence-based psychotherapy include personal therapy, compliance therapy, and supportive therapy (Fleischhacker & Brooks, 2006). Therapies for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder include video modeling and CBT. Occupational therapy (OT) is an effective evidence-based therapy for the treatment of Down syndrome. It involves helping people with the disorder master skills that foster their independence, motor skills, and academic performance (Fleischhacker & Brooks, 2006). These therapies have been developed through research studies conducted in different medical fields such as psychiatry and psychology. In many cases, therapeutic remedies are aimed at producing long-term effects because they target the behaviors and skills of patients. Physical and occupational therapies are used to treat developmental coordination disorder (DCD). Physical therapy promotes optimal adaptive functioning while occupational therapy focuses on the acquisition of underdeveloped skills (Fleischhacker & Brooks, 2006). Despite the lack of best practices to guide the use of various therapies, studies have shown that children who receive them cope better than those who do not.


Neurodevelopmental disorders refer to conditions that result from impairments in the brain and the central nervous system during growth and development. Major causes include genetic impairment, immune dysfunction, transmittable diseases, metabolic disorders, and emotional disturbances. Symptoms vary from disorder to disorder. However, some symptoms are common to all of them. They include learning disabilities, impulsivity, anxiety, depression, social isolation, and emotional difficulties. Neurodevelopmental disorders are divided into groups namely communication disorders, intellectual development disorders, motor disorders, learning disorders, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Treatment includes both medication and therapy. Medication targets disorder symptoms while therapy instills certain skills that are underdeveloped in the patient. The diagnosis criteria involve the evaluation of physical, medical, and behavioral histories. Differential diagnosis is an effective method because of the symptoms’ similarities observed among different neurodevelopmental disorders.


Farmer, J. E., Donders, J., & Warschausky, S. A. (2006). Treating Neurodevelopmental Disabilities: Clinical research and Practice. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Fleischhacker, W., & Brooks, D. J. (2006).Neurodevelopmental Disorders. New York, NY: Springer Science & Business.

Hansen, R. L., & Rogers, S. J. (2013). Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders. New York, NY: American Psychiatry Publishers.

Kormakaz, B. (2011). Theory of Mind and Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Childhood. Pediatric Research, 69(5), 101 -108.

Krakowiak, P., Walker, C. K., Bremer, A.A., Baker, A. S., Ozonoff, S., Hansen, R. L., & Hertz-Picciotto, I. (2012). Maternal Metabolic Conditions and Risk for Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Pediatrics, 129(5), 131-142.

Mouridsen, S. E., & Hauschild, K-M. (2011). Autism Spectrum Disorder in Siblings of Children with a Developmental Language Disorder. Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology, 36(4), 145-149.

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