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Although the diagnosis of developmental problems in a child may be devastating, it is fairly uncommon. In a 1994 report issued by the US Census Bureau’s National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), in the age group of children under five years old, only 3.4% of children have developmental problems. A child with a developmental problem or disorder has a significant delay physically, cognitively or mentally. This may be manifested in any number of symptoms, including problems with walking, understanding and using language, following instruction, eating and so on. It is important to note that if the child suffers from difficulties related to sight, speech impairment or hearing, he or she is not necessarily developmentally delayed.
Although there is a generally accepted timeline for development, what is considered “normal” can range significantly. Language development and walking can vary drastically between children and still be considered normal. Some children are born prematurely and need extra time to catch up with children their own age.
Development can be affected by many things. If a child suffers from a physical disability, he or she may not develop along a normal timeline. For instance, if he or she has spina bifida, walking may not come as easily or at all.
Many children put certain skills on hold while developing others, as is the case with a child who is intent on crawling but neglects working on fine motor skills for a short time. Some children may simply not be interested in achieving a milestone at the moment, and parents may become worried that they’re not developing “normally.” Speech may seemingly be delayed due to an undiagnosed problem such as a hearing impairment.
One of the primary problems the medical field has focused a lot of its attention on is a group called pervasive developmental disorders (PDD). These include a wide range of social and communication disorders, such as autistic spectrum disorders. An autistic spectrum disorder is a neurobiological condition in which communication and social skills are delayed. This spectrum of developmental disorders includes Asperger's Syndrome. Other disorders characterized as PDD include childhood disintegrative disorders and PDD-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
Other developmental problems that can cause developmental delays include Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Tourettes syndrome, cerebral palsy, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), bedwetting and general learning disorders such as dyslexia. Doctors cannot always diagnose why a child is experiencing developmental problems. It may be the result of a problem in the brain stemming from a biological or neurological defect. Other causes of developmental disorders may be genetic or environmental. If you or your doctor suspects developmental disorders, he or she will order an involved developmental assessment of the child’s language, mental, social, physical and emotional abilities in order to determine the problem and decide on a course of treatment.