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- 20 May 2021

Neurodevelopmental Disorders: what they are and how to recognize them

Neurodevelopmental Disorders (NDs) are a broad and varied group of conditions that develop during childhood and adolescence and can persist throughout the entire life span.

Find out more about what they are and how to recognize them!

What are Neurodevelopmental Disorders?

Neurodevelopmental Disorders (NDs) represent a broad and varied group of conditions with onset in the developmental period that affects the functioning of the brain, altering its neurodevelopment and causing varying degrees of difficulty in social, cognitive, and emotional functioning.

The most common are Autism Spectrum Disorders and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Neurodevelopmental Disorders typically occur during the early stages of development, which is why they were long believed to relate exclusively to the periods of childhood and adolescence. However, although they first present during developmental age, they continue to persist into adulthood, changing in the way they present and, for this reason, often going unrecognized and undiagnosed for a long time.

What are the different types of Neurodevelopmental Disorders?

The diagnosis of Neurodevelopmental Disorders encompasses a broad spectrum of disorders with onset in the developmental period (mostly by the age of 5 years). The classification of these conditions has recently been redefined with the publication of the DSM-5, within which they are grouped within the first chapter of the manual, following a developmental perspective that reflects the increasing interest directed toward a lifelong study of these conditions.

Within the specific diagnostic category included in DSM-5, the following diagnoses are recognized:

Neurodevelopmental Disorders appear during the early stages of development but continue to persist into adulthood, therefore they can be diagnosed at any age.

Neurodevelopmental Disorders frequently occur together; for example, individuals with autism spectrum disorder often have intellectual disabilities, and many children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also have a specific learning disorder.

Our Treatment Plans

Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Neurodevelopmental Disorders are a group of conditions that affect brain development and functioning, causing difficulties in various life areas. Neuroscience-based diagnosis and treatment offer new hope and possibilities for people with these conditions.                                                                                                                       

Learn how to recognize Neurodevelopmental Disorders, their causes, and available treatments!

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What is Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and what are the most common symptoms? Find out on this dedicated page.

The Istituto di Neuroscienze is a center of excellence for the diagnosis and treatment of Life-Span ADHD that includes preschool children through adults.

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Autism is not a disease in itself, but is a condition of Neuro-immune diversity that can become dysfunctional in relation to pervasiveness, severity, and environmental response. Therefore, it is possible to treat dysfunctions but not cure them.

It is difficult to generalize about therapies, and each therapy must be evaluated individually.

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Specific Learning Disorders (SLDs)

The Istituto di Neuroscienze offers diagnostic and rehabilitation services for the different forms of Specific Learning Disorders: Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dysorthography, Dyscalculia, and others.

Learn about the specific diagnostic-rehabilitative steps that characterize our treatment plan!

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How to Recognize Neurodevelopmental Disorders?

Neurodevelopmental disorders can be difficult to identify, as they can manifest in many different ways. Moreover, the range of presented deficits varies widely: from very specific limitations in learning or executive functions control to global impairment in social skills or intelligence.

Given the large number of conditions included in this diagnostic category, the symptoms with which they may present vary widely depending on the type and severity of the disorder. The main domains affected by Neurodevelopmental Disorders are the following:

  • Communication skills;

  • Language;

  • Learning skills;

  • Memory;

  • Motor skills;

  • Intelligence;

  • Executive functions;

  • Social skills.

Given the wide variability in the presentation of these conditions, it happens quite often that these disorders are not recognized at an early age, thus making their diagnosis even more complex in adulthood. Yet screening in many cases would be quite simple. For example, children with specific learning disorders often show good perceptiveness and intelligence, although they show considerable difficulty with seemingly simple skills such as reading or writing; moreover, they are often mostly aware of their difficulties, resulting in a lowering of their self-esteem.

Being able to recognize the core symptoms of these disorders is critical to providing early intervention and support appropriate to the needs of people with these disorders. Through early intervention and proper therapies, people with neurodevelopmental disorders can learn to manage their symptoms and reach their full potential.

Main symptoms

Time-delayed or abnormal development

One of the most common symptoms of Neurodevelopmental Disorders is time-delayed or abnormal development in areas such as language, social skills, and motor skills. For example, children with these disorders may struggle to communicate effectively, have difficulty making friends, or exhibit unusual movements or behaviors.

Attention and concentration difficulties

Another key symptom is difficulties with attention and concentration. Children with Neurodevelopmental Disorders may have major difficulties concentrating on tasks or show a tendency to be easily distracted. They may also exhibit hyperactive or impulsive behaviors, which can make it difficult to sit still or follow rules.

Sensory issues

Sensory issues are also common in Neurodevelopmental Disorders. For example, children with these conditions may be hypersensitive to certain stimuli, such as loud noises or bright lights, or may seek sensory input in unusual ways, such as spinning on themselves or swinging for long periods.

Emotional and behavioral problems

Emotional and behavioral problems are also often present in Neurodevelopmental Disorders. People with these conditions may show high levels of anxiety, depression, or aggression and have difficulty regulating their emotions.

Dr. Stefano Pallanti's Books

The Burden of Adult ADHD in Comorbid Psychiatric and Neurological Disorders

This book emphasizes the importance of investigating ADHD in adults with attention difficulties, poor memory, and poor executive function. Identifying ADHD in adults with other psychiatric and neurological disorders will lead to better response to treatment and, consequently, a reduction in the social, economic, and personal burdens caused by these disorders.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (english version, 1st ed.)

Dr. Stefano Pallanti contributed to the writing of a chapter on Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in Autism that he presented at an American Psychiatric Association Meeting symposium in May 2018.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (english version, 2nd ed.)

Recently published the 2nd Edition of the book "Textbook of Autism Spectrum Disorders". Dr. Stefano Pallanti contributed chapter 40 entitled "Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation", which discusses the use of TMS in autism spectrum disorders.

BAARS-IV (italian ed.)

Prof. Stefano Pallanti and Dr. Luana Salerno of the Istituto di Neuroscienze edited the Italian edition of the assessment tool for ADHD in adults: BAARS-IV (Barkley Adult ADHD Rating Scale-IV).

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