Simms’ Health Information Library

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Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder that begins early in childhood and lasts throughout a person's life. It affects how a person acts and interacts with others, communicates, and learns. It includes what used to be known as Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders.

It is called a "spectrum" disorder because people with ASD can have a range of symptoms. People with ASD might have problems talking with you, or they might not look you in the eye when you talk to them. They may also have restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. They may spend a lot of time putting things in order, or they may say the same sentence again and again. They may often seem to be in their "own world."

At well-child checkups, the health care provider should check your child's development. If there are signs of ASD, your child will have a comprehensive evaluation. It may include a team of specialists, doing various tests and evaluations to make a diagnosis.

The causes of ASD are not known. Research suggests that both genes and environment play important roles.

There is currently no one standard treatment for ASD. There are many ways to increase your child's ability to grow and learn new skills. Starting them early can lead to better results. Treatments include behavior and communication therapies, skills training, and medicines to control symptoms.

NIH: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Developmental Disabilities

Developmental disabilities are severe, long-term problems. They may be physical, such as blindness. They may affect mental ability, such as learning disabilities. Or the problem can be both physical and mental, such as Down syndrome. The problems are usually life-long, and can affect everyday living.

There are many causes of developmental disabilities, including

  • Genetic or chromosome abnormalities. These cause conditions such as Down syndrome and Rett syndrome.
  • Prenatal exposure to substances. For example, drinking alcohol when pregnant can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
  • Certain infections in pregnancy
  • Preterm birth

Often there is no cure, but treatment can help the symptoms. Treatments include physical, speech, and occupational therapy. Special education classes and psychological counseling can also help.

NIH: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Birth Defects

What are birth defects?

A birth defect is a problem that happens while a baby is developing in the mother's body. Most birth defects happen during the first 3 months of pregnancy. One out of every 33 babies in the United States is born with a birth defect.

A birth defect may affect how the body looks, works, or both. Some birth defects like cleft lip or neural tube defects are structural problems that can be easy to see. Others, like heart disease, are found using special tests. Birth defects can range from mild to severe. How a birth defect affects a child's life depends mostly on which organ or body part is involved and how severe the defect is.

What causes birth defects?

For some birth defects, researchers know the cause. But for many birth defects, the exact cause is unknown. Researchers think that most birth defects are caused by a complex mix of factors, which can include

  • Genetics. One or more genes might have a change or mutation that prevents them from working properly. For example, this happens in Fragile X syndrome. With some defects, a gene or part of the gene might be missing.
  • Chromosomal problems. In some cases, a chromosome or part of a chromosome might be missing. This is what happens in Turner syndrome. In other cases, such as with Down syndrome, the child has an extra chromosome.
  • Exposures to medicines, chemicals, or other toxic substances. For example, alcohol misuse can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
  • Infections during pregnancy. For example, infection with Zika virus during pregnancy can cause a serious defect in the brain.
  • Lack of certain nutrients. Not getting enough folic acid before and during pregnancy is a key factor in causing neural tube defects.
Who is at risk of having a baby with birth defects?

Certain factors may might increase the chances of having a baby with a birth defect, such as

  • Smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking certain "street" drugs during pregnancy
  • Having certain medical conditions, such as obesity or uncontrolled diabetes, before and during pregnancy
  • Taking certain medicines
  • Having someone in your family with a birth defect. To learn more about your risk of having a baby with a birth defect, you can talk with a genetic counselor,
  • Being an older mother, typically over the age of 34 years
How are birth defects diagnosed?

Health care providers can diagnose some birth defects during pregnancy, using prenatal testing. That's why it important to get regular prenatal care.

Other birth defects may not be found until after the baby is born. Providers may find them through newborn screening. Some defects, such as club foot, are obvious right away. Other times, the health care provider may not discover a defect until later in life, when the child has symptoms.

What are the treatments for birth defects?

Children with birth defects often need special care and treatments. Because the symptoms and problems caused by birth defects vary, the treatments also vary. Possible treatments may include surgery, medicines, assistive devices, physical therapy, and speech therapy.

Often, children with birth defects need a variety of services and may need to see several specialists. The primary health care provider can coordinate the special care that the child needs.

Can birth defects be prevented?

Not all birth defects can be prevented. But there are things you can do before and during pregnancy to increase your chance of having a healthy baby:

  • Start prenatal care as soon as you think you might be pregnant, and see your health care provider regularly during pregnancy
  • Get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. If possible, you should start taking it at least one month before you get pregnant.
  • Don't drink alcohol, smoke, or use "street" drugs
  • Talk to your health care provider about any medicines you are taking or thinking about taking. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, as well as dietary or herbal supplements.
  • Learn how to prevent infections during pregnancy
  • If you have any medical conditions, try to get them under control before you get pregnant

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Rehabilitation

What is rehabilitation?

Rehabilitation is care that can help you get back, keep, or improve abilities that you need for daily life. These abilities may be physical, mental, and/or cognitive (thinking and learning). You may have lost them because of a disease or injury, or as a side effect from a medical treatment. Rehabilitation can improve your daily life and functioning.

Who needs rehabilitation?

Rehabilitation is for people who have lost abilities that they need for daily life. Some of the most common causes include

  • Injuries and trauma, including burns, fractures (broken bones), traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord injuries
  • Stroke
  • Severe infections
  • Major surgery
  • Side effects from medical treatments, such as from cancer treatments
  • Certain birth defects and genetic disorders
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Chronic pain, including back and neck pain
What are the goals of rehabilitation?

The overall goal of rehabilitation is to help you get your abilities back and regain independence. But the specific goals are different for each person. They depend on what caused the problem, whether the cause is ongoing or temporary, which abilities you lost, and how severe the problem is. For example,

  • A person who has had a stroke may need rehabilitation to be able to dress or bathe without help
  • An active person who has had a heart attack may go through cardiac rehabilitation to try to return to exercising
  • Someone with a lung disease may get pulmonary rehabilitation to be able to breathe better and improve their quality of life
What happens in a rehabilitation program?

When you get rehabilitation, you often have a team of different health care providers helping you. They will work with you to figure out your needs, goals, and treatment plan. The types of treatments that may be in a treatment plan include

  • Assistive devices, which are tools, equipment, and products that help people with disabilities move and function
  • Cognitive rehabilitation therapy to help you relearn or improve skills such as thinking, learning, memory, planning, and decision making
  • Mental health counseling
  • Music or art therapy to help you express your feelings, improve your thinking, and develop social connections
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Occupational therapy to help you with your daily activities
  • Physical therapy to help your strength, mobility, and fitness
  • Recreational therapy to improve your emotional well-being through arts and crafts, games, relaxation training, and animal-assisted therapy
  • Speech-language therapy to help with speaking, understanding, reading, writing and swallowing
  • Treatment for pain
  • Vocational rehabilitation to help you build skills for going to school or working at a job

Depending on your needs, you may have rehabilitation in the providers' offices, a hospital, or an inpatient rehabilitation center. In some cases, a provider may come to your home. If you get care in your home, you will need to have family members or friends who can come and help with your rehabilitation.

Learning Disabilities

What is a learning disability?

Learning disabilities are conditions that affect the ability to learn. They can cause problems with

  • Understanding what people are saying
  • Speaking
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Doing math
  • Paying attention

Often, children have more than one kind of learning disability. They may also have another condition, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which can make learning even more of a challenge.

What causes learning disabilities?

Learning disabilities don't have anything to do with intelligence. They are caused by differences in the brain, and they affect the way the brain processes information. These differences are usually present at birth. But there are certain factors that can play a role in the development of a learning disability, including

  • Genetics
  • Environmental exposures (such as lead)
  • Problems during pregnancy (such as the mother's drug use)
How do I know if my child has a learning disability?

The earlier you can find and treat a learning disability, the better. Unfortunately, learning disabilities are usually not recognized until a child is in school. If you notice that your child is struggling, talk to your child's teacher or health care provider about an evaluation for a learning disability. The evaluation may include a medical exam, a discussion of family history, and intellectual and school performance testing.

What are the treatments for learning disabilities?

The most common treatment for learning disabilities is special education. A teacher or other learning specialist can help your child learn skills by building on strengths and finding ways to make up for weaknesses. Educators may try special teaching methods, make changes to the classroom, or use technologies that can assist your child's learning needs. Some children also get help from tutors or speech or language therapists.

A child with a learning disability may struggle with low self-esteem, frustration, and other problems. Mental health professionals can help your child understand these feelings, develop coping tools, and build healthy relationships.

If your child has another condition such as ADHD, he or she will need treatment for that condition as well.

NIH: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

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