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Eight Medical Conditions Causing Disability in Children

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/22/2006 | Health
Ideally, all children everywhere would be born innately healthy, both at the moment of birth and during later development. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Many children throughout the world - even in the most "modern" countries with advanced health care - are born each year with medical conditions that will lead to disability at some point in the future. Others develop conditions later on that also result in difficulties in managing daily living activities and/or learning activities.

In the US alone, more than 4 million children under the age of 18 are classified as having a disability due to a physical or mental health impairment.

Let's take a look at some of the more common conditions that can lead to disability in children.

1. Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD)

AD/HD is a disorder that makes it hard for children to sit still, control their behavior, and pay attention. It is usually diagnosed before the age of 7, but not always. Doctors aren't sure what causes AD/HD, but studies support the theory that it is related to an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. There is no quick treatment for AD/HD, but the symptoms can be managed.

2. Autism/Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)

Autism is a kind of PDD. Aspergers Syndrome is closely related as well. The US Disabilities Education Act defines autism as, "a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age 3, that adversely affects a child's educational performance." Children with autism have a wide range of abilities, intelligence, and behaviors. Early diagnosis is important. Again, experts are not sure what causes autism, but the symptoms can be managed. Many children who have autism grow up to be productive, functioning adults.

3. Cerebral Palsy (CP)

CP is a condition resulting from an injury to the part of the brain that controls the nerves and muscles. This injury can occur before birth, during delivery, or shortly after birth. CP can be mild, moderate or severe. Disability can range from being slightly clumsy to being confined to a wheelchair. Children with CP can have learning disabilities, sensory problems, and sometimes mental retardation.

4. Sensory Problems

Sensory problems can include both hearing impairment (deafness) and blindness. Hearing loss can occur at any time, from infancy on. The causes vary widely. Although a hearing loss in and of itself doesn't affect a child's intellectual capacity or ability to learn, it may require special adaptations. Blindness can also have a number of different causes. Severity can range from partially sighted to low vision to legally blind to totally blind. Visual handicaps can create many obstacles to a child's ability to grown and learn.

5. Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is the most common chromosomally-related cause of mental retardation. For unknown reasons, a child with Down syndrome ends up with an extra chromosome, which interferes with the orderly development of the body and brain. Some of the more common signs of Downs are poor muscle tone, slanted eyes with folds of skin at the inner corners, short, broad hands and feet, and a short neck with a small head. Children with Down syndrome may also have other health problems. There tends to be a wide variation in mental and physical abilities among the Down population, but early intervention is the best course of action to prevent as much disability as possible.

6. Learning Disabilities

Learning disability is a term that means the child has trouble learning and using specific skills. Some of the more common skills affected are reading, writing, speaking, reasoning, and doing math. Learning disabilities can vary greatly from child to child. Experts believe that learning disabilities are caused by differences in how a person's brain works and how it processes information. Children with learning disabilities are not stupid or lazy. Indeed, they often have average or even above average intelligence. There is no cure, but children can be taught to work around their disability and learn successfully.

7. Speech and Language Impairments

Speech and language impairments refer to problems in communication and related areas such as oral motor function. Causes can include hearing loss, neurological disorders, brain injury and cleft lip/palate. Timely intervention will usually prevent severe disability as a result of speech impairments.

8. Spina Bifida

One of the most common "birth defects," spina bifida is an incomplete closure of the spinal column during a baby's development while still in the womb. It can range from mild to severe, with the degree of disability corresponding. Symptoms can include muscle weakness, poor bowel and bladder control, and a buildup of fluid in the brain. With therapy and adaptations, children with spina bifida are usually able to function in their environments successfully.

Obviously, it is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail about any of these conditions, but you can find a lot of information and helpful tips on dealing with disabilities in children at the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities website here: http://www.nichcy.org
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