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What Are Neurodevelopmental Disorders? Causes, Symptoms, & Natural Treatments

Updated: Jul 8


Neurodevelopmental disorders - The Dearing Clinic


Neurodevelopmental disorders are a group of neurological disorders that affect the normal development of someone’s brain. These disorders typically manifest during childhood and include conditions such as ADHD, autism, OCD, dyslexia, and hyperkinetic movement disorders.


If it feels like neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and ADHD are on the rise, you’re right. Recent surveys show that there are higher reported rates largely due to increased awareness and better diagnostic tools. But how do you know if your child (or even you or your spouse) has an undiagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder? 


If you have a lingering suspicion that something seems a little different and you’re beginning to wonder if something else is at play, it’s wise to educate yourself on what neurodevelopmental disorders are, learn how they impact the brain, and discover the signs and treatment options so you know what to do next. 


After all, understanding neurodevelopmental disorders is important so you can get and/or provide the appropriate support and interventions for anyone affected by these conditions. So, keep reading to get the information you need to know.


What Are Neurodevelopmental Disorders?

Neurodevelopmental disorders, also known as neurobehavioral control disorders, are a group of neurological disorders that affect the development of someone’s brain. As a result, those who have a neurodevelopmental disorder may struggle in the areas of  communication, social interaction, cognition, and motor skills. 


Neurodevelopmental disorders are incurable and known to manifest differently in each person and range in severity, with some people experiencing mild difficulties and others facing significant challenges throughout their entire lives. 


Interestingly, as rates of neurodevelopmental disorders are increasing, many are beginning to use the terms “neurodivergence” and “neurodivergent” as ways to talk about the condition and those with the condition differently. In short, there’s increasing awareness and desire to reclassify and view these conditions as differences as opposed to disorders.


Causes of Neurodevelopmental Disorders

While the exact causes of neurodevelopmental disorders haven’t been confirmed by scientists, research suggests that a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurobiological factors are all involved. 


Let’s take a closer look at some of the major factors.


Environmental Factors: Prenatal exposure to toxins, such as alcohol or certain medications, and maternal health and nutrition can increase the risk of having a neurodevelopmental disorder. Food sensitivities and additives can further complicate immune responses and impact brain development. Finally, some regions of the brain may not develop as expected due to improper growth, potentially influenced by illness, injury, or hypoxic brain issues at birth. 


Genetic Factors: Certain genes may increase the risk of developing neurodevelopmental disorders, and variations in genetic material can affect brain development and functioning.


Neurobiological Factors: Differences in brain structure and functioning, including immune system dysfunction and epigenetic changes, have been observed in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. In fact, studies have shown a potential link between neurodevelopmental disorders and immune system dysfunction, suggesting that abnormalities in the immune system could contribute to the development of neurodevelopmental disorders by impacting brain development and neural connectivity.


Thyroid hormone balance in mothers is also a critical but lesser-known factor, as thyroid hormones significantly impact infant brain development.


Common Types of Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Now that you know more about what a neurodevelopmental disorder is and what causes them, let’s look at the most common types of neurodevelopmental disorders.


It’s important to know there are several types, and each has its own unique characteristics and challenges that can impact various aspects of someone’s life, including social interactions, academic performance, and daily functioning.


Here’s a list of common neurodevelopmental disorders to know about.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders, affecting about 11.4 percent of children aged 2 through 17 and an estimated 4.4 percent of adults. Characterized by difficulties in maintaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior, rates of ADHD diagnoses increase year over year, likely due to heightened awareness and increased recognition. 


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

ASD is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts a person’s social interaction, communication, and behavior. As a result, those with ASD may have difficulty understanding social cues, expressing emotions, and forming relationships.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 36 (or almost 3 percent) of children have ASD. Just as with ADHD, rates are steadily rising, largely due to increased awareness, improved diagnostic criteria, and increasingly broader definitions. 


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

A neurodevelopmental disorder that Involves recurring thoughts and behaviors that individuals feel compelled to repeat due to feelings of anxiety and/or distress, OCD affects about 1 to 2 percent of the population. It often begins during childhood or adolescence and rates are on the rise, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, according to studies.


Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that impacts someone’s ability to read, write, and spell. A common neurodevelopmental disorder, dyslexia affects up to 20 percent of the population, making it one of the most commonly diagnosed learning disabilities. Once again, due to increased awareness and higher reporting rates, the diagnosis of dyslexia is on the rise. 


Hyperkinetic Movement Disorders

Hyperkinetic movements disorders are conditions featuring unwanted or abnormal movements and difficulty with motor control, such as Tourette syndrome, tics, and tremors. These disorders are common in children but still less common than other neurodevelopmental disorders, affecting about 1 in 162 children.


Why It's Important to Understand Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Understanding neurodevelopmental disorders is crucial in order to provide early intervention and support for children struggling with the impacts of these disorders. By recognizing the signs and symptoms, it allows healthcare professionals, educators, and parents to work together to ensure these children receive the necessary resources and accommodations they need to meet their full potential and truly thrive.


Additionally, understanding the underlying causes can greatly inform the development of highly targeted interventions and therapies, which could improve the child’s overall development and well-being. 


Finally, those with neurodevelopmental disorders may face unique challenges in both educational and social settings. That’s why it’s essential for parents, other caregivers, and professionals to have a deep understanding of these conditions and provide the emotional support necessary.


Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Neurodevelopmental Disorders

There are various behavioral, cognitive, and social symptoms of neurodevelopmental disorders, and they largely depend on both the specific condition and person with the condition. 


Common symptoms include:

  • Difficulties in social interaction and communication, including disinterest in others, missed social cues, and decreased eye contact

  • Repetitive or stereotyped behaviors

  • Hyperactivity or inattention

  • Struggles with reading, writing, or mathematics 

  • Motor coordination difficulties

  • Walking on toes

  • Sensory seeking or avoidance


It is important to note that each individual can present with a unique combination and severity of symptoms. As a result, getting a comprehensive assessment conducted by healthcare professionals is necessary in order to make sure the diagnosis is accurate. 


Additionally, it’s crucial to realize that neurodevelopmental disorders can manifest differently across a person’s lifetime. While some symptoms may be more noticeable in childhood, others may become more prominent in teenage or adult years. For example, difficulties with executive functioning, such as planning and organization, may become more obvious as people age and naturally take on increased responsibilities in their personal and professional lives.


Finally, environmental factors can play a significant role in the presentation of symptoms associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. Access to early intervention services, supportive family environments, and educational accommodations can greatly improve a person’s ability to cope with and manage their symptoms effectively by the time they reach adulthood. 


Diagnosing Neurological Disorders

Diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental disorder typically involves a comprehensive assessment that considers a person’s medical history, developmental milestones, and observations by caregivers and professionals. While standardized assessment tools and criteria aid in the diagnostic process, there are many factors to consider prior to making the diagnosis.


It’s important to differentiate neurodevelopmental disorders from other conditions that present with similar symptoms. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of these other conditions and disorders. Some conditions that can mimic neurodevelopmental disorders include intellectual disabilities, learning disorders, and psychiatric disorders.


Working with a reputable healthcare professional will help to ensure that you or your child will receive an accurate diagnosis along with the best possible treatment plan.


Treatments for Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Treatment for neurodevelopmental disorders typically involves a number of different approaches used to comprehensively address certain challenges and needs. While there is no cure for neurodevelopmental disorders, certain interventions and therapies can help manage symptoms and improve overall functioning.


Medications

In some cases, medications may be prescribed to manage specific symptoms associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. Stimulants, antidepressants, and antipsychotics may be used to target specific symptoms associated with neurodevelopmental disorders.


Note that all medications have side effects that should be discussed with a healthcare professional prior to ingestion. In some cases, children with neurodevelopmental orders may require the assistance of medication (such as with ASD) while others should avoid it if possible (such as those with ADHD). Each case is different and warrants individual consideration. That said, it’s advised to consider more natural long-term therapies to promote healthy, positive impacts.


Therapy

Some people with neurodevelopmental disorders may find help from undergoing therapy. Here are a few different therapeutic approaches known to aid in treating neurodevelopmental disorders.


Neurodevelopmental Therapy

Neurodevelopmental therapy focuses on improving sensory integration, motor skills, and cognitive functioning. Interestingly, research has shown that neurofeedback-based neurodevelopmental therapy on children with ADHD resulted in significant reductions in ADHD symptoms, particularly inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity, suggesting neurofeedback as an effective intervention. 


Meanwhile, another study assessed the effectiveness of sensory integration therapy on children with ASD and found that it significantly improved their goal-directed behaviors, social skills, and sensory processing.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to help people address challenging behaviors, develop coping strategies, and problem solve through new ways of thinking. Research has found that behavioral therapy can improve adaptive behavior, language acquisition, and social skills in children with ASD as well as improve organizational skills, time management, and overall symptom reduction in children with ADHD.


Natural Treatments

In addition to therapy, research has found that other natural treatments and lifestyle measures can help support those with neurodevelopmental disorders. Here are a few natural options to look into if you’re looking for support for a neurodevelopmental disorder.

  • Try an elimination diet. Elimination diets can help identify food sensitivities that may be contributing to troublesome symptoms. In fact, research has shown that elimination diets may benefit some children with ADHD or ASD, especially if those children have established food sensitivities or allergies. When trying an elimination diet, it’s best to begin by removing highly inflammatory foods such as dairy, gluten, soy, and others and then adding them back in one at a time to help identify any culprits.

  • Supplement to fill nutritional gaps. Nutritional supplements such as B complex vitamins (B1, B6, B12, folate), vitamins A and C, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to support brain development and function.

  • Engage in physical activity. Being active in a way that improves muscle control, postural strength, and coordination is a crucial part in treating neurodevelopmental disorders. Exercises such as rock climbing and rhythmic activities can enhance motor skills and cognitive functioning. Additionally, combining the activity and focus required for karate is a great adjunctive therapy for certain neurodevelopmental disorders, especially ADHD.

  • Get a chiropractic adjustment. Regular adjustments can help maintain proper spinal alignment and support nervous system function. Specifically, it’s been shown to improve behavior, hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and communication.

  • Use hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). HBOT involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment to increase the amount of oxygen that reaches the blood and tissues, including the blood vessels within the brain. Because research has shown that improving oxygen flow to the brain supports its development and functioning, scientists have surmised that HBOT offers strong potential in treating a variety of neurodevelopmental disorders. 


Neurodevelopmental disorders - The Dearing Clinic

Supporting People with Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Supporting someone with a neurodevelopmental disorder requires a collaborative effort among healthcare professionals, educators, and families. Providing a supportive environment, understanding their unique strengths and challenges, and implementing appropriate accommodations are key to helping those with a neurodevelopmental disorder thrive and reach their full potential.


To learn more about how The Dearing Clinic can offer therapeutic support for neurodevelopmental disorders, contact us here

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