What Are Neurobehavioral Disorders?

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What Are Neurobehavioral Disorders?

Neurobehavioral disorders are a group of conditions associated with brain impairments, injuries, or diseases such as dementia or multiple sclerosis. ADHD, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Tourette's Syndrome are considered neurobehavioral disorders.

Damage to the brain could be caused by an external force like a blow to the head, referred to as a traumatic brain injury, or by an illness, known as a non-traumatic brain injury. Significant behavioral changes in the people who develop them characterize these disorders.

In some instances, these disorders overlap. For example, this means that a child with one disorder, let’s say autism, could also be diagnosed with another neurobehavioral condition such as Tourette’s syndrome.

Neurobehavioral disorders affect one’s behavior, emotions, and learning processes. This group of disorders is sometimes referred to as neurodevelopmental disorders, and both terms could be used interchangeably. 

Symptoms of Neurobehavioral Disorders

There are several types of neurobehavioral disorders, and the symptoms of each of the conditions can vary. However, if you suspect that your child is suffering from a kind of neurobehavioral disorder as a result of a brain injury or illness, here are some general early symptoms to look out for: 

  • Aggression 
  • Lack of motivation 
  • Changes in behavior 
  • Difficulty speaking 
  • Limited motor skills 
  • Poor memory retention 
  • Difficulty learning new skills 

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s essential that you take your child to visit a doctor to get a proper diagnosis immediately. If you suspect that you, your child, or someone you know is living with a neurobehavioral condition, consult with a neurologist as soon as you can. 

Diagnosing Neurobehavioral Disorders

While neurobehavioral disorders can primarily be associated with brain injury or illness, each one is unique. Additionally, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines the criteria for each disorder.

To be diagnosed with a neurobehavioral disorder, you must first consult with a neurologist or neuropsychiatrist. They’ll take a detailed look into your medical history and what symptoms you've been displaying.

Most neurobehavioral disorders are characterized by symptoms that affect a person’s behavior, thinking, and functioning. 

Causes of Neurobehavioral Disorders

Beyond brain injury or a brain illness, it’s unclear what exactly is responsible for the development of neurobehavioral disorders. Most conditions in this group are most likely caused by a combination of biological, genetic, and environmental risk factors.

Some environmental risk factors that have been associated with the development of neurobehavioral disorders include the use of alcohol or drugs during pregnancy, childhood exposure to toxic materials, being born prematurely, and even low socioeconomic status.

A 2016 study shows a clear link between alcohol consumption during pregnancy and the development of neurobehavioral disorders. Some researchers propose that neurobehavioral disorders associated with prenatal alcohol exposure should be classified as a mental health diagnosis on its own.

Types of Neurobehavioral Disorders 

There are several types of neurobehavioral disorders in the world today. A great deal of research has been and is still being conducted to gain better insight into these disorders.

Some of the most common, as of today, are discussed below.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is a neurobehavioral condition characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. ADHD is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders across the world. In a 2016 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers found that about 9.4% of children between the ages of 2 and 17 had been diagnosed with ADHD.

The three major signs of ADHD include: 

  • Inattention: A child with ADHD might be easily distracted and find it difficult to follow instructions. They might dislike any activities that involve long periods of mental work and appear to be very forgetful. 
  • Hyperactivity: A child with ADHD who displays signs of hyperactivity typically finds it difficult to sit still. They are constantly moving and playing even in situations that might not be seen as appropriate, like during a class, for example.
  • Impulsivity: Signs of impulsivity typically include speaking excessively, being incapable of waiting their turn before they speak, interrupting others, and blurting out the answers to a question before they’ve been completed.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

ASD is a group of developmental and behavioral conditions which primarily affect social behavior and communication. As of 2020, 1 in 54 children in the United States has been diagnosed with autism.

ASD affects each individual with the condition in different ways. While some people might only experience mild symptoms, others might experience severe symptoms that interfere with their daily functioning.

Some common symptoms of ASD include:

  • Avoiding eye contact with other people
  • Finding it difficult to talk about feelings 
  • Avoiding physical contact with other people 
  • Showing a lack of interest in connecting with other people 
  • Speaking in an odd tone of voice

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is a neurobehavioral disorder that typically begins in childhood but often goes undiagnosed until adulthood. It is a condition that causes a person to have recurrent and frequent obsessions and compulsions in response to these obsessions to help ease their distress.

Obsessions are typically intrusive thoughts or urges. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that people with OCD do to relieve distress.

Boys are more likely to develop OCD in childhood than girls. Girls tend to develop OCD in adolescence or adulthood. It’s not clear what causes OCD, as with many other neurobehavioral disorders.

A study conducted in 2018 shows that certain infections such as strep throat in childhood could trigger OCD; however, more research needs to be undertaken in this area.

Tourette Syndrome (TS)

Tourette syndrome (also referred to simply as Tourette's) is a neurological condition that causes a person with the disorder to make sudden and repeated movements and sounds. These are called tics.

Physical and vocal tics are the main symptoms of the condition; these tics can make an appearance in children as young as two and persist into teenagehood.With the proper treatment and care, the tics will eventually improve and, in some instances, even go away completely.

While there is currently no cure for the condition, the proper treatment can make it manageable. Tourette’s syndrome might sometimes co-occur with other neurobehavioral disorders like OCD and ADHD.

Treatment for Neurobehavioral Disorders

Treatment for neurobehavioral disorders is multi-faceted. It typically depends on the particular condition being treated. Also, treatment might not even be the same for two people who have the same neurobehavioral disorder. However, treatment is generally made up of a combination of medication, therapy, and special education services.

Before starting treatment, a neurologist or neuropsychologist will first assess the disorder and the severity of your symptoms. A series of interviews and tests may be conducted to better understand how the neurobehavioral disorder affects you specifically.

Coping With Neurobehavioral Disorders

Neurobehavioral disorders can be challenging, especially for the family and loved ones of people living with these conditions.

It’s crucial for the families of people with any of these conditions to support them. This can be done through joining support groups, participating in joint psychological interventions, and emotionally supporting them from diagnosis through recovery.

Research shows that family intervention can be effective in relieving some symptoms of neurodevelopmental disorders.

12 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.