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Developmental disorder
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 F80-F84
ICD-9 299, 315

Developmental disorders is a group of psychiatric conditions originating in childhood that involve serious impairment in different areas. There are several ways of using this term.[1]

The most narrow concept is used in the category "Specific Disorders of Psychological Development" in the ICD-10.[1] These disorders comprise language disorders, learning disorders, motor disorders and autism spectrum disorders.[2] In broader definitions ADHD is included, and the term used is neurodevelopmental disorders.[1] Yet others include antisocial behavior and schizophrenia that begins in childhood and continues through life.[1] However, these two latter conditions are not as stable as the other developmental disorders, and there is not the same evidence of a shared genetic liability.[1]

Developmental disorders are present from early life. They usually improve as the child grows older, but they also entail impairments that continue through adult life. There is a strong genetic component, and more males are affected than females.[1]



Some developmental disorders become obvious when a child struggles at school.

Learning disabilities are diagnosed when the children are young and just beginning school. Most learning disabilities are found under the age of 9.[3]

Young children with communication disorders may not speak at all, or may have a limited vocabulary for their age.[4] Some children with communication disorders have difficulty understanding simple directions or are unable to name objects.[4] Most children with communication disorders are able to speak by the time they enter school, however, they continue to have problems with communication.[4] School-aged children often have problems understanding and formulating words.[4] Teens may have more difficulty with understanding or expressing abstract ideas.[4]


The scientific study of the causes of developmental disorders involves many different theories. Some of the major differences between these theories involves whether or not environment disrupts normal development, or if abnormalities are pre-determined.[5]

Typical development occurs with a combination of contributions from both the environment and genetics. The theories vary in the part each factor has to play in normal development, thus affecting how differences are caused.[6]

One theory that supports environmental causes of developmental disorders involves stress in early childhood. Researcher and child psychiatrist Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D, theorizes that developmental disorders can be caused by early childhood trauma.[7] In his works he compares developmental disorders in traumatized children to adults with post-traumatic stress disorder, linking extreme environmental stress to the cause of developmental difficulties.[7] Other stress theories suggest that even small stresses can accumulate to result in emotional, behavioral, or social disorders in children.[8]

Genetics play a key role in some conditions. For example, autism can be passed down from parent to child.


Autism spectrum conditions (ASC)[]


The first diagnosed case of autism was in 1938 by American psychiatrist Leo Kanner. Autistic people are diverse, and the level of needs varies widely. Signs show up in early childhood, though they are not always recognized. Autism may be diagnosed as soon as early childhood, but can happen in later years and even adulthood.

Early diagnosis can diminish familial stress, speed up referral to special educational programs, and influence family planning.[9] In teens and adults, diagnosis can open access to services and help them understand themselves better.

In the brain[]

Autism is 80-90% genetic[10] with environmental influences acting in the womb.[11][12] Details of this are still being studied. Some proposed causes, such as vaccines, have been clearly disproven.[13][14][15][16][17][18]

Autism involves differences in the cortex, which controls higher functions, sensation, muscle movements, and memory. The brain is simply "wired" differently. The distribution of white matter, the nerve fibers that link diverse parts of the brain, is atypical. An autistic child's brain grows rapidly and is almost fully grown by the age of 10.[9]


A young woman spinning in a dress

Art by autistic artist Luna Rose. Autistic people may engage in repetitive behavior (stimming) to self-regulate.

Signs of autism include:[19][20]

  • Developmental delays
  • Difficulty picking up on social cues like facial expressions, body language, subtexts, and hints
  • Trouble making friends
  • Discomfort with eye contact
  • Sincerity
  • Intense, passionate interests
  • Repetitive fidgeting (stimming) to self-regulate
  • Need for routine
  • Sensory over- and under-sensitivities

It comes with both strengths and difficulties.[21][22]


Autism is lifelong.[23] Treatments are tailored to the autistic person's individual needs. Treatment should focus on building skills and improving quality of life.

Options include music therapy, occupational therapy, augmentative and alternative communication, sensory integration, assertiveness training, and more.[9] The use of applied behavior analysis for autism has long been popular, but is becoming controversial due to concerns about the strength of the evidence base[24][25] and potential harms.[26][27][28][29]

A growing number of researchers believe that autistic people should not be trained to mask their autistic traits. Autistic masking is linked with adverse mental health outcomes.[30][31][32] Research suggests that enjoying their special interests is good for their wellbeing.[33] Behavior like stimming[34][35] and avoiding eye contact[36] can help with emotion and sensory regulation.

While support needs vary, many autistic people cannot live fully independently. Lifelong services can help them manage things like employment, health and safety, and other areas where they might need support.


ADHD Word Cloud 2

ADHD word cloud

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder involves significant levels of hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and/or impulsiveness. There are three types: inattentive (formerly known as attention deficit disorder), hyperactive/impulsive, and a combination (inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive).[37]


Signs of ADD/ADHD include inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Executive dysfunction is present and may be severe. Each person with ADHD is unique.

People with ADHD may also struggle socially. They may not "fit in" with their peers.[37]

Accomplishing tasks takes much more effort for people with ADHD. In adulthood, managing a household and adult responsibilities can be extremely challenging.

Treatment options[]

The different kinds of medicines that can be taken to treat attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder include central nervous system stimulants, antidepressants, antihypertensives, and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Examples of central nervous system stimulants include Ritalin, Concerta, and Metadate (different forms of methylphenidate), Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine mixed salts) and Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine sulfate). Examples of the antidepressants, antihypertensives, and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors commonly prescribed are bupropion, clonidine and atomoxetine, respectively.

When started at an early age, occupational therapy can greatly effect a child's development. Occupational therapy can help with various needs, including sensory, cognitive, physical, and motor skills. These skills will enhance self-esteem and ensure a heathier lifestyle for ADD and ADHD children. Occupational therapy is a wonderful early intervention program that will guide a child through most difficulties that ADD and ADHD propose.

Developmental aspect in mental health[]

See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 (2008) Rutter's Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Fifth Edition, Dorothy Bishop and Michael Rutter, 32-33, Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
  3. National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities. (1982). Learning disabilities: Issues on definition. Asha, 24 (11), 945-947.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Communication Disorders. (n.d.). Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, WI, Retrieved December 6, 2011, from
  5. Karmiloff, Annette. "Development itself is key to understanding developmental disorders". Page 1. Published October 1, 1998. Retrieved on November 26, 2011 from:
  6. Karmiloff, Annette. "Development itself is key to understanding developmental disorders". Page 1. Published October 1, 1998. Retrieved on November 26, 2011 from:
  7. 7.0 7.1 Perry, Bruce D. and Szalavitz, Maia. "The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog", Basic Books, 2006, p.2. ISBN 978-0-465-05653-8
  8. Payne, Kim John. “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids”, Ballantine Books, 2010, p. 9. ISBN 9780345507983
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Dereu, Mieke. (2010). Screening for Autism Spectrum Disorders in Flemish Day-Care Centers with the Checklist for Early Signs of Developmental Disorders. Springer Science+Business Media. 1247-1258.
  10. This Is How Much of Autism Is Genetic
  11. Arndt, T.L., Stodgell, C.J. and Rodier, P.M. (2005), The teratology of autism. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience, 23: 189-199.
  12. Autism begins in the womb, according to a new study
  13. "Vaccines and autism: a tale of shifting hypotheses". Clin Infect Dis 48 (4): 456–61. 2009. doi:[doi:10.1086/596476 10.1086/596476]. PMC 2908388. PMID 19128068. Archived from the original on 31 October 2013.
  14. Do Vaccines Cause Autism?
  15. Autism and Vaccines
  16. Knopf A. Time to remember: Vaccines don't cause autism. The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter. 2021 Jul;37(7):9–10. doi: 10.1002/cbl.30559. Epub 2021 Jun 7. PMCID: PMC8207024.
  17. Link between autism and vaccination debunked
  18. Vaccines Don't Cause Autism (and Here's the Proof)
  19. About Autism
  20. What is autism?
  21. Autism Strengths
  22. Strengths of Autism: Why Autistic People Excel at Specific Tasks
  23. Scott D. Wright , Cheryl A. Wright , Valerie D’Astous & Amy Maida Wadsworth (2019) Autism aging, Gerontology & Geriatrics Education, 40:3, 322-338, DOI: 10.1080/02701960.2016.1247073
  24. Reichow B, Hume K, Barton EE, Boyd BA. Early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) for young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 May 9;5(5):CD009260. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009260.pub3. PMID: 29742275; PMCID: PMC6494600.
  25. Sandbank M, Bottema-Beutel K, Crowley S, Cassidy M, Dunham K, Feldman JI, Crank J, Albarran SA, Raj S, Mahbub P, Woynaroski TG. Project AIM: Autism intervention meta-analysis for studies of young children. Psychol Bull. 2020 Jan;146(1):1-29. doi: 10.1037/bul0000215. Epub 2019 Nov 25. PMID: 31763860; PMCID: PMC8783568.
  26. “Recalling hidden harms”: autistic experiences of childhood applied behavioural analysis (ABA)
  27. Evidence of increased PTSD symptoms in autistics exposed to applied behavior analysis
  28. Aileen Herlinda Sandoval-Norton, Gary Shkedy & Dalia Shkedy | Jacqueline Ann Rushby (Reviewing editor) (2019) How much compliance is too much compliance: Is long-term ABA therapy abuse?, Cogent Psychology, 6:1, DOI: 10.1080/23311908.2019.1641258
  29. Why caregivers discontinue applied behavior analysis (ABA) and choose communication-based autism interventions
  30. Conceptualising Autistic Masking, Camouflaging, and Neurotypical Privilege: Towards a Minority Group Model of Neurodiversity
  31. Cassidy S, Bradley L, Shaw R, Baron-Cohen S. Risk markers for suicidality in autistic adults. Mol Autism. 2018 Jul 31;9:42. doi: 10.1186/s13229-018-0226-4. PMID: 30083306; PMCID: PMC6069847.
  32. Cassidy, S.A., Gould, K., Townsend, E. et al. Is Camouflaging Autistic Traits Associated with Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviours? Expanding the Interpersonal Psychological Theory of Suicide in an Undergraduate Student Sample. J Autism Dev Disord 50, 3638–3648 (2020).
  33. Grove R, Hoekstra RA, Wierda M, Begeer S. Special interests and subjective wellbeing in autistic adults. Autism Res. 2018 May;11(5):766-775. doi: 10.1002/aur.1931. Epub 2018 Feb 10. PMID: 29427546.
  34. Kapp SK, Steward R, Crane L, Elliott D, Elphick C, Pellicano E, Russell G. 'People should be allowed to do what they like': Autistic adults' views and experiences of stimming. Autism. 2019 Oct;23(7):1782-1792. doi: 10.1177/1362361319829628. Epub 2019 Feb 28. PMID: 30818970; PMCID: PMC6728747.
  35. Stimming, therapeutic for autistic people, deserves acceptance
  36. Should We Insist on Eye Contact with People who have Autism Spectrum Disorders
  37. 37.0 37.1 Tresco, Katy E. (2004). Attention Deficit Disorders: School-Based Interventions. Pennsylvania: Bethlehem.

Further reading[]

Key texts[]


  • Achenbach, T. M. (2000) Assessment of psychopathology. In A. Sameroff, M. Lewis, & S. Miller (Eds.), Handbook of developmental psychopathology (2nd ed.). New York: Plenum.
  • Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. A. (2002) Empirically based assessment and taxonomy: Applications to infants and toddlers. In R. Del Carmen-Wiggins & A. Carter (Eds.), Handbook of infant and toddler mental health assessment. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195144384


Additional material[]



External links[]

Template:Dyslexia and specific developmental disorders

fr:Trouble du développement