Psychiatric Care for Children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Neurodevelopmental disorders is a catch-all term for a variety of mental illnesses. These illnesses are characterized almost exclusively by delays in neurological developmental stages and milestones, which causes ripple effects into many sectors of a child’s life. The two main categories of neurodevelopmental disorders are Autism Spectrum disorders and Intellectual Disabilities.
What are some common signs and symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders?
Autism Spectrum Disorders include a wide array of symptoms and signs. The entire “spectrum” covers a range of affected individuals; some children may be considered “high-functioning,” because their disorder does not affect their life as severely as some “low-functioning” individuals. This Autistic Spectrum does have some common factors that many individuals, on either end of the spectrum, may experience. Some of the most common include:
- Restrictive/repetitive behaviors: These behaviors can include having overly focused interest, or a lasting, intense interest in certain topics. Another common sign is unusual behaviors, or repeating certain behaviors for no apparent reason to an outside observer. (For a classic, albeit stylized, example of a person experiencing these behaviors, watch The Big Bang Theory and pay particular attention to the character of Sheldon Cooper.)
- Social communication or interaction behaviors: These symptoms can include little or inconsistent eye contact, becoming upset at changes in routine or new experiences, and responding in unusual ways when others show strong emotions, like anger, distress, and affection. There may also be difficulty incorporating into a back-and-forth style of communication; children with Autism Spectrum Disorders may interrupt, or talk at length about a favorite subject without noticing or letting others interject in the conversation.
- Sensory sensitivities: people with ASDs may also be very sensitive to external input, like light, noise, temperature, and texture. Sleep problems, digestion issues, and irritability are also common in conjunction with these triggers.
One thing that is unique about ASDs is that children and individuals on the spectrum have strengths and abilities beyond the norm that often appear along with the above signs and symptoms. These can include above average intelligence, detail-oriented learning, long memories for minor details, strongly visual and auditory in their learning styles, and excelling in math, science, music, or art. In fact, the CDC reports that 46% of children on the Autism Spectrum have above average intelligence.
How is it determined that someone has an Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Today’s doctors diagnose ASDs by examining a child’s behavior and development. Young children suspected of having an ASD can reliably be diagnosed by a professional no earlier than the age of two years. For an older child or adolescent, evaluations for a possible ASD can occur when a parent, caregiver, or teacher raises concern about the child’s socialization, communication, and play. Diagnosing an ASD in adults is not easy. Sometimes, symptoms of an ASD can overlap with symptoms of other mental health disorders, like ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder).
Diagnosis in young children is generally a two-stage process, including a general developmental screening during well-child checkups and, if needed, additional evaluation. The CDC provides some great resources and information to take with you to your child’s checkups, so that you can work with your pediatrician to determine if your child should be evaluated for a potential diagnosis of ASD. If needed, the additional evaluation is conducted, with a team of doctors and health professionals at hand to assess cognitive level and thinking skills, language abilities, and age-appropriate life skills for independent daily activities, including eating, dressing, and toileting. The evaluation may also include blood screenings and hearing or vision tests. For older children and adults, the process focuses more on a discussion and comprehensive evaluation of the individual’s life experiences and abilities to date, often in the individual’s own words. Questions in interview-style discussions may be the basic protocol, but there are other styles and evaluation procedures that can be tailored to best fit the situation at hand.
How is ASD being handled or treated in today’s society?
Because of the wide range of symptoms and abilities of those on the autistic spectrum, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment or approach that is guaranteed to help. ASD are highly individualistic, and treatment for those on the spectrum is tailored to best fit the individual’s needs and skills. Working closely with a doctor or other health care professional is important to finding the best treatment early on; but parents and caregivers should be careful not to fall into the trap of “looking for the cure.” Autism Spectrum Disorders can be a great asset to the individuals on the spectrum, and many on the spectrum feel that their ASD makes them who they are.
Some individuals on the spectrum find that journaling their conversations and interactions with others helps them to locate their troubles in social settings; knowing these triggers or pitfalls can help them to determine coping mechanisms and become better communicators. Support groups for those with autism spectrum disorders and their family and caregivers are also another popular option. Talk-therapy with a certified psychologist has also proven effective for many patients. Medication is sometimes helpful, especially for treating some of the symptoms that compound the problems of living with an ASD; irritability and aggression, hyperactivity and attention problems, and even anxiety and depression have all been successfully treated with medication for some individuals on the spectrum.
What are some common signs and symptoms of Intellectual Disability?
Intellectual Disability is a generic term for the range of disabilities and challenges associated with having low IQ (generally below 75pts). Intellectual disability also often manifests with behavioral challenges, including
- impulse control
Many individuals with Fragile X Syndrome experience some form of intellectual disability, and some also fall on the Autism Spectrum. According to the CDC, some 46% of males with FXS and 16% of females with FXS have been diagnosed with or received treatment for an ASD.
How is it determined that someone has an Intellectual Disability?
The most basic diagnostic tool for determining if an individual has an intellectual disability is an IQ test. Low IQ of 75 or below is the most certain determiner of intellectual disability.If the intellectual disability is suspected to be genetically linked, a genetic test will reveal whether a genetic disorder or mutation is the cause. A note to the wise: while some people claim that ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and other similar disorders are “intellectual disabilities,” that is not true or factual. ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and related disorders are “learning disabilities;” they affect how or in what way a person learns and retains information. An intellectual disability is a physical, often genetically-linked, biophysical debility that causes an inability to learn or to progress to the level expected of a neurotypical person. People with intellectual disabilities will experience more problems of different strengths than people with learning disabilities. It is important not to confuse the two.
How is Intellectual Disability being handled or treated in today’s society?
Many individuals with intellectual disabilities are able to live full lives in our modern society. Some may require live-in caregivers, who help them learn to be safe and live as independent a life as possible on their own. Others may be more high-functioning, and able to live on their own, even holding a job and experiencing life as an independent citizen. Because intellectual disabilities can affect every aspect of an intellectual’s life, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan. Treatments and coping mechanisms are highly individualized, and should be designed and implemented closely with a medical professional’s assistance.
Get more information on Autism Spectrum Disorders and Intellectual Disability.
If you suspect you or a loved on is experiencing signs or symptoms associated with an ASD or intellectual disability, including Fragile X Syndrome, you can contact Prime Behavioral Health. We have certified mental health professionals ready to assist you with living your best life. Give us a call, or fill out one of our online contact forms, today!