Developmental Disorders


Developmental disorders are long-term problems that affect a child’s behavioral, language, learning and physical development. While developmental disorders are often lifelong, and most do not have cures, treatments such as physical, occupational and speech therapy can help with symptoms.


  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Down syndrome
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Hearing loss
  • Intellectual disability
  • Language and speech disorders
  • Learning disorders
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Vision impairment


Each condition has its own unique symptoms. However, broadly, symptoms of developmental disorders include:

  • Difficulty speaking or delayed speech
  • Delayed crawling, sitting or walking
  • Difficulty understanding consequences
  • Difficulty with problem-solving or logic
  • Trouble understanding social rules


While some developmental disabilities cannot be prevented, those that can include brain injuries, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and neural tube defects.

  • Avoid environmental hazards such as lead or mercury, both for women during pregnancy and for children after birth.
  • Do not drink alcohol during pregnancy.
  • Do not smoke or use other tobacco products during pregnancy.
  • Educate yourself about risks for conditions such as shaken baby syndrome.
  • Recognize and have newborn jaundice treated.
  • Seek medical care for any infections or illnesses during pregnancy.
  • Seek prenatal care.
  • Take appropriate folic acid supplements.

Risk Factors

Risk factors in the mother include:

  •  Alcohol or other substance misuse
  • Falls during pregnancy
  • Infections during pregnancy

Risk factors for the infant include:

  • Genetic abnormalities
  • Near-drowning
  • Preterm birth


  • Medical history and symptom review. Your child’s provider will review any medical history and assess the symptoms that brought you into his or her office.
  • Behavioral assessment. The provider will observe your child for any signs of disability, as well as any coping skills.
  • Developmental screening. Screening for developmental milestone delays (delayed speech, walking or playing, to name a few) is done by the provider, but parents can watch for developmental delays at home and share any concerns with their child’s provider.
  • Blood and imaging tests. Some conditions can be identified through blood tests (looking for genetic abnormalities) or ultrasounds. Ultrasounds can be done during pregnancy, and blood tests are done on newborns (often referred to as the heel prick).


  • Diet. Children with conditions such as phenylketonuria (PKU), which can cause intellectual disability, will likely remain on a strict and specific diet their entire lives to manage symptoms.
  • Medication. Some children with conditions characterized by hormone deficiencies that can cause developmental disorders will benefit from daily oral treatment.
  • Occupational therapy. Therapists will work with children on basic self-care activities, such as dressing, brushing teeth and using eating utensils, and on social skills, such as playing and sitting still in public.
  • Physical therapy. Exercises can help children improve fine- and gross-motor skills.
  • Speech therapy. Speech-language therapists work with children to improve communication, and these lessons are reinforced with help from parents, teachers and peers.

Follow-up Care

Developmental disorders are typically lifelong conditions, and ongoing care and monitoring are necessary. Your child’s provider will work with you to determine appropriate treatment at various life stages and monitor your child for any secondary conditions or illnesses that may be connected to a developmental disorder.