What are neurodevelopmental disorders?

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In this blog we will discuss what neurodevelopmental disorders are.

We will also briefly look at the different neurodevelopmental disorders categorized in the DSM 5 as well as what causes these disorders. 

What are neurodevelopmental disorders?

Neurodevelopmental disorders also called Developmental disorders refer to the group of neurological disorders that negatively impact the development of the nervous system which inturn interferes with a person’s acquisition, retention, or application of certain skills.

These disorders also impact the brain leading to abnormal brain functioning which can negatively affect emotion and emotional regulation, learning, self regulation and self control, as well as memory- all of which interfere with healthy functioning of the individual in various areas of their life. 

These neurodevelopmental disorders are usually observed right after birth and during childhood however the effects of these disorders last a lifetime causing them to experience dysfunction in their relationships, their careers and academic growth, and their ability to meet the demands of their day to day life. 

The symptoms of these disorders can lead to dysfunction in their ability to focus and pay attention, remember and recall, their perception, their learning, and their ability to communicate and interact with the world around them. 

Neurodevelopmental disorders recognised and categorized in the Diagnostic and Statistical manual of mental disorders are:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Developmental Coordination Disorder
  • Tic Disorders like Tourette’s Disorder
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Specific Learning Disorder
  • Child-onset Fluency Disorder (Stuttering)
  • Speech Sound Disorder

What are the different neurodevelopmental disorders recognised in the DSM5?

The various mental disorders that has been recognised and categorized in the DSM 5 include:

Intellectual disability

Intellectual disability or intellectual developmental disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by mental and intellectual deficits.

A person who has intellectual disability tends to experience difficulties in mental and cognitive processes involved with intellect such as reasoning, problem solving, planning, abstract thinking,judgment, academic learning, and learning from experience. 

These intellectual deficits are what leads to impairments and dysfunction in their lives as they are unable to adapt and meet the standards at which peers of their age, in general, are at. 

They experience deficits related to personal independence such as taking care of themselves, their diet, their mobitly, their ability to plan, groom themselves etc.

Intellectual disability also causes dysfunction in terms of socialization, communication, social participation, academic or occupational areas of their lives. 

Global developmental delay

Global developmental delay is another intellectual disability where an individual does not meet the expected developmental milestones that they should meet at a certain age as per average standards in intellectual functioning. 

For someone to be diagnosed with this disorder they undergo assessments even for children who are too young for standardized testing. 

Unspecified Intellectual Disability

This category of intellectual disability is a recognised neurodevelopmental disorder for children over the age of 5 when their degree of intellectual disability cannot be confirmed due to a physical disability like blindness or prelingual deafness or co-occurring mental disorder. 

Communication disorders

The communication disorders that has been recognised by the DSM-5 include:

  • Language disorder
  • Speech sound disorder
  • Social (pragmatic) communication disorder
  • Childhood-onset fluency disorder (stuttering). 

Language disorder and speech sound disorder are diagnosed when there is a deficit in an individual’s use of language. Speech and social communication due to deficits in development.

Childhood-onset fluency disorder 

This disorder is characterized by disruption in the fluency and motor production of speech leading to repetitive sounds or syllables, prolongation of consonants or vowel

sounds, broken words, blocking, or words like stuttering. 

This abnormality in fluency is caused by excessive physical tension that begins in early life and can persist into adulthood. 

Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder

This form of communication disorder involves difficulties in social communication in terms of verbal and noverbal ces that is persistent in all contexts. 

The person may experience deficits in using communication for social purposes like greeting someone when meeting them as well as face challenges in changing communication styles, tone of voice, body language etc in appropriate social contexts. 

They might also have trouble understanding non literal meanings of language like sarcasm and also have difficulties following rules for conversation such as taking turns in


Autism spectrum disorder

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions that involve challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. 

According to the Center for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States and usually symptoms of the disorder appear at the age of 2-3 years old while some developmental delays are observed as easily as 18 months. 

Because autism is a spectrum disorder, there are not just one but many subtypes of the disorder which vary according to the variation in genetic and environmental factors.  It also has a distinct set of strengths and challenges for each person on the spectrum.

People with autism Spectrum disorder vary in the way they think, learn, and problem solves- some can be highly skilled as it is the case for people with asperger’s syndrome or severely challenged enough to be considered a disability and require intense support and care from other people while others do not. 

Several factors increase the risk of the development of autism such as genetics, environment, parental substance abuse, family history, maternal and paternal behavioral risk factors like smoking or drinking when pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

The disorder is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities and medical issues such as gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures or sleep disorders, and  mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and attention issues.Research shows that early intervention leads to positive outcomes later in life for people with autism.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

ADHD refers to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder which is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and disorganization in cognition and behavior. 

For a person to be diagnosed with ADHD, this disorganization is often impairing that can impact their ability to behave appropriately, do meaningful work, maintain social relationships etc.  because of inattention and disorganization which makes it hard for them to be consistent and remember things. 

They also experience hyperactivity and impulsivity which manifests in terms of overactivity, fidgeting, inability to stay seated, intruding into other people’s activities, and inability to wait.

ADHD is diagnosed in childhood and often persists into adulthood, causing dysfunction and 

impairments of social, academic and occupational functioning.

Motor disorders

The neurodevelopmental motor disorders refer to disorders that are marked by dysfunction in terms of coordination and movement. 

The disorders that fall under this category include:

  • Developmental coordination disorder which is characterized by deficits in motor coordination due to the failure to acquire and execute coordination skills so the person with this disorder is observed to be clumsy or slow which causes impairment and interferes with their daily life.. 
  • Stereotypic movement disorder involves repetitive, seemingly driven, and apparently

purposeless motor behaviors, such as hand flapping, body rocking, head banging, self biting, or hitting which can interfere with their daily lives and also lead to injury. 

  • Tic disorder is another disorder that involves the presence of motor or vocal tics, which are sudden, rapid, recurrent, nonrhythmic along with stereotyped motor movements or vocalizations.

Specific learning disorder

Specific learning disorders involve individuals that have deficits in one;s ability to perceive, understand, and process information efficiently and accurately that leads to impairment in the process of learning. 

This disorder is often observed during the years of formal schooling and is persistent in other areas of their life- eg outside of school environment- and involves learning deficits in terms of  foundational academic skills in reading, writing, and/or math. 

The major dysfunction is in terms of their learning and academics and they often are observed to be underperforming while some can also be observed as gifted but experience defints when assessment procedures such as time limits pose as a barrier for their intellectual abilities. 

Specific learning disorders can produce lifelong impairments and negatively impact an individual’s occupational performance.

What are the causes of neurodevelopmental disorders?

The development of the nervous system is highly time sensitive and sensitive to the factors in one’s genetics as well as the environment in which the individual is involved in. 

Factors that increase the risk of the neurodevelopmental disorders include genetic disposition such as genetic diseases, deficits in chromosomal structures or chromosomal diseases. 

Another risk factor is deprivation of social and emotional care during infancy and childhood where negligence can lead to greater risk of developing these disorders. 

Immune dysfunction during the prenatal stage in both child and mother may produce neurodevelopmental disorders. However, vulnerability to these immune diseases may be genetically determined meaning that some people might develop a neurodevelopmental disease following an infection while others may not. 

Infectious diseases can result in neurodevelopmental consequences, when they occur in infancy and childhood of humans. Infections of the head and brain have been linked to the development of neurodevelopmental problems and eventually a disorder. 

Metabolic disorders in either the mother or the child can cause neurodevelopmental disorders. Metabolic disorders like diabetes mellitus and phenylketonuria which affect the child’s metabolism and neural development.

Nutritional deficits can cause neurodevelopmental disorders such as folic acid deficiency in the mother, iodine deficiency could be related to a spectrum of neurodevelopmental disorders. Excesses in both maternal and infant diets may cause disorders as well, especially foods that are toxic in large amounts. 

Physical trauma such as brain injury as a prenatal complications of premature birth including  hypoxia and mechanical trauma of the birth process  and injury occurring in infancy or childhood.


In this blog we have discussed what neurodevelopmental disorders are.

We also briefly looked at the different neurodevelopmental disorders categorized in the DSM 5 as well as what causes these disorders. 

FAQ related to Neurodevelopmental disorders

What are the most common neurodevelopmental disorders?

The most commonly reported and recorded neurodevelopmental disorders include Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

What are the neurodevelopmental disorders DSM-5?

According to the DSM-5 the neurodevelopmental disorders include:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Developmental Coordination Disorder
  • Tic Disorders like Tourette’s Disorder
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Specific Learning Disorder
  • Child-onset Fluency Disorder (Stuttering)
  • Speech Sound Disorder

Is autism a neurological disorder?

Yes, autism is a neurological and developmental disorder and refers to a broad range of conditions that involve challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. 

Is anxiety a neurodevelopmental disorder?

Though the DSM5 does not recognize anxiety as a neurodevelopmental disorder, recent research finds that disorder like anxiety does have a biological neurological basis. 


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).

What is a Neurodevelopmental Disorder? DLD and Me. Retrieved on 21st March 2022. https://dldandme.org/what-is-a-neurodevelopmental-disorder/

Definition of Developmental Disorders. MSD Manual. Retrieved on 21st March 2022. https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/children-s-health-issues/learning-and-developmental-disorders/definition-of-developmental-disorders

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