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Developmental Disorders: Types, Causes, and Symptoms

Developmental Disorders: Types, Causes, and Symptoms

At the outset, we’d like to quell your worries about developmental disorders – they are not uncommon, they do not necessarily interfere with your child’s well-being and way of life, and most importantly, they are not a comment on your parenting!

Developmental disorders in children refer to a range of conditions that can affect their physical, communication, social, emotional, and cognitive development. Some of them may have their own individual challenges for the child and family to come to terms with, often requiring intervention and specialised care. Treat this blog as an introduction to the types of developmental disorders. We’ll help you understand how one differs from the other, the symptoms, the benefits of early intervention, and how you can offer support to your little one.

Note: This blog must not be considered as a substitute for a diagnosis. If you notice your child exhibiting any signs or red flags of a developmental disorder, please consult a developmental paediatrician right away.

Types of developmental disorders

Childhood developmental disorders may be classified under two categories:

  1. Diagnosed at birth
  2. Diagnosed typically between the ages of 3 and 5 years

Let’s look at the types of developmental disorders in order of commonality:


Autism is a neurobehavioral condition that impairs social interaction, and language and communication skills.

Children with autism may appear to be rigid and unyielding, some even exhibit repetitive behaviours. Owing to this complex range of symptoms, autism is now called autism spectrum disorder or ASD. The severity of the disease can be from being a handicap that prevents a person from leading a normal life to a devastating disability that may require admission to a rehabilitation center.


ADHD impairs the child’s ability to control their spontaneous responses. It can lead to behaviours such as inattentiveness, inability to follow instructions, a dislike for routine, and a tendency to blurt out remarks. Some children with ADHD may also display hyperactive behaviour.


Cerebral Palsy refers to a group of disorders that impairs a child’s posture, proprioception  (sense of balance), coordination, and mobility. It is caused by abnormal brain development or irreparable damage to the immature and developing brain (during pregnancy or shortly after birth).


Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder refers to a group of complex, lifelong, and typically disabling conditions that may occur in children whose mothers consumed alcohol during pregnancy. It encompasses a wide range of cognitive, physical, emotional, and behavioral challenges. 


Down syndrome or Trisomy 21 is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of an extra chromosome 21 in a person’s cells. This additional chromosome changes the course of development and typically causes a range of cognitive and physical characteristics. 


Fragile X syndrome is A genetic disorder that is the most common inherited cause of intellectual disability, especially among boys, Fragile X Syndrome is caused by a mutation in the FMR1 gene. This mutation results in the production of a non-functioning protein that affects brain functioning and development.


Spina bifida is a congenital neural tube defect. It occurs during early fetal development when the spinal column does not close properly. One of the most common birth defects, it affects the central nervous system and typically causes a range of neurological and physical challenges. 


Another inherited developmental disorder, Muscular dystrophy is characterised by degeneration of muscle and progressive muscle weakness. It is caused by mutations in the genes responsible for the structure and function of muscle fibers. Each type of muscular dystrophy has its typical features, disease progression, and inheritance patterns. 


Perhaps the most mysterious developmental disorder, Velocardiofacial Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the deletion of a small piece of chromosome 22. It, also known as 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. It affects various systems in the body causing a range of developmental, physical, and medical issues. 

Note: Developmental disabilities are more comprehensive and encompass various developmental domains, while learning disabilities specifically pertain to challenges in acquiring academic skills. The most misunderstood and misrepresented developmental disorder, Intellectual Disability was referred to as mental retardation (MR) in older terminology. It is a neurodevelopmental condition that is characterised by limitations in intellectual capacity and adaptive behavior. It impacts an individual’s cognitive functioning and their ability to adapt to everyday life.

You can read more about learning disabilities here.

Causes of developmental disorders

The following are the typical causes of developmental disorders:

  • Prenatal Conditions
      • Premature birth
      • Maternal infections
      • Exposure to teratogens (drugs, alcohol, tobacco, certain medications)
  • Perinatal Conditions
      • Low birth weight
      • Traumatic birth
      • Birth complications (oxygen deprivation)
  • Postnatal Conditions
    • Nutritional deficiencies
    • Exposure to environmental toxins
    • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Genetic Factors
    • Chromosomal abnormalities
    • Inherited genetic traits (autism is believed to have a genetic component)
    • Genetic mutations/alterations
  • Neurological Factors
    • Structural abnormalities or malformations in the brain
    • Neurotransmitter imbalance

Risk factors of developmental disorders

Family history, maternal health, late initiation or inadequate prenatal care are some of the greatest risk factors of developmental disorders.

Symptoms of developmental disorders

Typically, symptoms of developmental disorders may vary depending on the type and severity of the disorder. Having said that, let’s take a look at the red flags of developmental disorders. If your child exhibits any or a combination of these red flags, please consult a developmental paediatrician immediately.

  • Cognitive and/or intellectual symptoms
    • Learning difficulties – inability to acquire and/or retain new information
    • Short-term memory issues
    • Intellectual disabilities – lack of problem-solving and reasoning skills, inability to understand abstract concepts
    • Executive functioning problems – Lack of impulse control, difficulty in planning, organising, and managing time
  • Communication symptoms
    • Speech delays – inability to articulate sounds, form words, or construct sentences
    • Language delays – inability to to acquire and/or retain new words, grammar, syntax
    • Communication problems – inability to communicate verbally and non-verbally
  • Behavioural symptoms
    • Anxiety
    • Phobia
    • Emotional dysregulation
    • Depression
    • Mood disorders
    • Aggression
    • Tendency to self-harm
    • Fixations or unusually obsessive behaviours
  • Social Symptoms
    • Repetitive behaviours – hand flapping, rocking, unable to accept changes to routine
    • Lacking in empathy
    • Inability to initiate social interaction
    • Overreacting to sensory stimuli – sensitivity to sound, light, textures, or touch
  • Gross and fine motor challenges
  • Impaired hand-eye coordination
  • Regression – sudden/gradual loss of previously acquired skills, such as social abilities or speech
  • Delays in achieving developmental milestones (Read about early childhood developmental milestones here)
  • Sleep problems – difficulty in falling asleep, frequent night awakenings, or irregular sleep patterns

Early intervention and specialized care at Plexus

Plexus’ Early Intervention Program focuses on developing communication and social skills by enabling your little one to build vocabulary, comprehend and apply new words and phrases. Simultaneously, we also work towards improving their cognitive and behavioural skills. By addressing developmental delays and challenges early on, it helps children acquire critical skills necessary for daily living, learning, and social interaction. Moreover, it supports families in understanding and coping with their child’s needs and fosters a nurturing and inclusive environment.

Through a combination of supportive measures, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, behavioral interventions, and educational support, early intervention identifies and addresses developmental challenges in infants, toddlers, and young children. It understands the significance of timely support in maximizing your little one’s developmental potential and improving their overall quality of life. 

At Plexus, we offer timely and empathetic support, the best of care, and a promise for a better and brighter tomorrow.


What are the 5 developmental disabilities?

Autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, down syndrome, and ADHD are most common developmental disabilities.

What causes a developmental disorder?

Typically, a developmental disorder may be caused by one or a combination of the following:

  • Family history
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Prenatal conditions
  • Perinatal conditions
  • Postnatal conditions
  • Neurological factors

What type of disability is ADHD?

ADHD is a developmental disability, and not a learning disability.

Is ADHD a genetic disease?

Yes, ADHD can be an inherited disease.

Is ADHD developmental or born with?

ADHD is typically present at birth, or can develop shortly after birth.

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