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How to Spot Signs of Various Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Your Child

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Neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD) are a range of multifaceted neurologically based conditions that affect the normal functioning of the brain. With the majority of such conditions, including autism spectrum disorder and ADHD, the signs start to manifest in early childhood. Still, in some of them (schizophrenia, for instance), symptoms may show up during teen years or even later.

Although conditions that fall under the NDD umbrella are still not curable, modern medicine offers effective therapies intended to help control some of the symptoms and let affected persons live reasonably everyday lives. The earlier patients start with the treatment, the better results they can expect. Therefore it is essential to sound the alarm as soon as you notice the first symptoms. Here is how to spot signs of various neurodevelopmental disorders in your child.


According to numerous studies, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) affects between 3% and 5% of children. While the signs and symptoms can vary significantly from one child to another, parents are strongly recommended to take their son or daughter to a paediatrician if they notice the following behavioural patterns:

  • Impulsivity – your child is not able to stay quiet and prone to risk-taking behaviour.
  • Distractibility – your child can’t follow a series of simple instructions, lose track of short conversations, can’t focus on playing with one toy.
  • Hyperactivity – you have a feeling that your child is frequently in motion and just can’t stop fidgeting.
  • Lack of attention – your child is unable to stay on track and complete a simple task.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

ASD is a pretty broad term; therefore, symptoms can vary dramatically depending on whether a person is on the mild or severe end of the spectrum. By the way, not so long ago considered a separate NDD condition, Asperger Syndrome is now classified as a form of high-functioning ASD. In fact, people with this diagnosis often do not stand out of the crowd, showing minimal behavioural differences. If you think your child might be one of them, you can take advantage of the Asperger’s Syndrome test. Here are common signs of this condition:

  • Difficulties with social interactions
  • Lack of emotions
  • Limited interests
  • Desire for sameness

Children who are on the other end of the spectrum have more severe symptoms, which affect their cognitive development and a variety of skills, triggering disruptive or self-harm behaviour, insomnia, and an array of associated difficulties. Here are some early signs your child needs professional help:

  • Your child is sensitive to certain sounds, smells, or textures
  • It has difficulties with expressing emotions
  • It does not speak or shows delayed speech development
  • Prone to repetitive behaviour like saying the same phrase over and over again
  • Can’t fall asleep
  • It doesn’t like hugging and cuddling
  • Has little or no eye contact
  • Your child does not respond to his/her name


Schizophrenia is a chronic behavioural disorder caused by an imbalance in brain chemistry. It usually starts to manifest in the teen years or even later. However, some of the symptoms can be caught during childhood. Here is what to look for:

  • Your child sees things that aren’t there
  • Has insomnia
  • Is very irritable
  • Does not have friends
  • Always play alone
  • Often bursts into tears without reason.

Tourette syndrome

Tourette syndrome is a disorder characterised by the presence of involuntary sounds and movements called vocal or motor tics, respectively. The more complex the tics, the more severe the condition is. That is why, although not life-threatening, Tourette can be extremely challenging. 

Children with TS perhaps show the broadest spectrum of symptoms of all NDD disorders. What’s more, tics frequently change, ranging from light blinking and repetitive touching of things to shouting and jumping. Usually, the first tics come together with the first words, but there is no general rule. Here are some of the signs to pay attention to:

  • Your child is grimacing when watching TV or playing
  • He/she is grunting, sniffing, or clearing the throat
  • Blinks constantly
  • Has shoulder shrugging or head jerking
  • Has different tics at the same time

No parent is prepared to hear that a child is diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder. Some mums and dads prefer not to notice obvious signs of ADHD, autism, or other severe conditions, hoping for an improvement in the coming years. It’s not the right way to help your child, as the early start of the treatment is key to success.

Better to be safe than sorry; hence seek professional help as soon as you spot any of the symptoms mentioned above. Today, there are medications and various therapies able to reduce tics, hyperactivity, as well as a wide range of behavioural issues.

Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.

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