What is a Developmental Disorder?

Posted by  | Tuesday, December 9, 2008  at 9:34 PM  
Once we scheduled this topic in our lineup, it became apparent that the five of us were unsure of the definition of a "developmental disorder." At this point, none of us have much, if any direct experience with developmental disorders or delays in our children. We'll hopefully have a few more guests posts this week from Mom's who've been there with their own children. Until then - I thought I would offer up some definitions and resources for those that are interested.

I learned so much from just about 20 minutes of quick research. (Actually, what I realized is that I should have remembered much of this from my psychology courses in high school and college! Oops!) It is such a broad topic, I really only skimmed the surface. Here is some of what I found.

First off, there is a difference between developmental disorders and developmental delays. I had a hard time finding a good, succinct description of the differences between the two. A disorder can be physical or psychological in nature and includes autism and aspergers syndrome. These disorders usually include delays in several areas including language, motor skills and social skills.

The term "delay" is usually used when only one or two developmental areas are significantly lagging. These include delays in fine and gross motor skills, speech or social skills. Delays can be caused by genetic factors (such as Down syndrome), prematurity, other complications during pregnancy and even chronic ear infections.

Most readers know that my son was born premature at 32 weeks. We battled major reflux for about 20 months! Now, I know reflux is not a developmental disorder, so where am I going with this? :)

About the time that Will was 10 months old (8 months if you adjust for his prematurity), we started giving him finger foods like "puffs" and cheerios. He would gag and rarely chew them. Sometimes the gagging would result in coughing which would lead to choking. My husband and I both performed the Heimlich several times before his first birthday. By the time he was 11 months - we took him to the doctor because he still could not eat finger foods without gagging. We learned that he had dysphagia. Basically, the word dysphagia means "difficulty swallowing." It can be caused by many things - but it our case, the reflux and prematurity were probably to blame. He went to a speech therapist for 3 months for "feeding therapy" in order to learn how to chew and swallow properly.

I had no idea how behind my son was in his eating skills. Now, I watch my 9 month old eat and I realize how behind he really was. She is already eating mostly finger foods or very chunky spoon fed dishes. We break her foods up in tiny pieces, only to have her gather up a fist full and shove it in her mouth with no problem!

I share this because we were clueless, first time parents. Thankfully, we had a doctor who listened to our concerns when we took him in at 11 months to say, "he can't eat cheerios." I have to add that I'm so thankful this minor bump in the road is the only real issue we've dealt with from Will's prematurity. Praise the Lord!

Here are some links that give good information on what to look for in your child's development. (Most don't include "can your child eat cheerios without choking?") These links are helpful, but do remember that all children develop differently. Always talk with your doctor about any concerns you have about your child. You are their best advocate and don't be afraid to ask questions!

University of Michigan

Babycenter Milestone Charts

March of Dimes baby milestones

AAP developmental stages

We would love to hear from any of you about your experiences regarding your child's development! Any other good resources that you know of regarding developmental delays and/or disorders?


Courtney said...

I am a little late with commenting, but I did want to give a resource. I was a developmental therapist with early imtervention for 3 years. The company I worked for was based out of Wake Forest. They have some good links under their parent resources section on the website www.cfskids.com I truly loved what I did and miss it now that I am staying home. It was amazing to work with such special children.

KC said...

Christina, My son battles with dysphasia. I would love to talk with you more about your experience!

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