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Arrested Development in Children

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Authored by Darlene Zagata in Child and Teen Health
Published on 06-17-2009

Arrested development is an abnormal condition in which development has stopped or in some cases, regressed. It is a developmental deficiency that may result from a genetic defect. There are many factors that can play a role in the development of this disorder. Infants who suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome may also suffer from arrested development. There are various types of arrested developmental disorders such as those that affect delayed physical development, or other aspects such as mental and/or social development. A child with such a condition may develop at an abnormally slow rate mentally and/or physically.

Arrested development is often seen in children that are autistic as well as children who have been abused. Children who suffer abuse may display arrested development in various ways such as reverting to a younger stage of behavior. They may also become withdrawn and avoid social situations such as playing with other children. They may lack friends altogether or outside of social environments. These children tend to fall on the side of one extreme or another. Such children are usually either extremely shy and withdrawn or they may be overachievers who try very hard to compensate for the lack of self-esteem their abusive situation has caused.

Children of various ages can suffer from arrested development. It is apparent that at various stages of growth and maturity those children affected have fallen behind the norm in the marginal process of development, regardless of the underlying cause. Although there are several factors that can arrest social development in children, many of them are preventable. It is imperative to recognize the signs and symptoms of abuse so that the child may receive the support he or she needs to grow and develop in a healthy environment.

Children who exhibit signs of arrested development may revert to infantile behavior such as becoming overly attached. They may also do the opposite and appear detached. A child’s emotional detachment can be difficult on parents as they do not know how to cope with the fact that their child seems indifferent to attempts at affection. The development of social skills can be quite difficult for these children as their behavior and emotional state is often very immature. The situation can be compounded in children who are autistic as they may withdraw completely from social interaction. This leaves the parents who are ill equipped to deal with the condition at a loss.

As a parent, it is crucial to try and understand things from the child’s perspective. Individually, all families deal with their share of problems and although many parents may not realize it, children are affected by the environment in which they grow. Social, economic and personal problems can impact a child emotionally. A positive environment and social interaction during the early years can be beneficial to a child’s growth and development in later years. There are many support groups that can be useful whether the type of arrested development is physical, social, emotional or a combination of factors. Early intervention can make a difference in a child’s life.

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