Cognitive Impairment in Children

Instructor: Gaines Arnold

Gaines has a Master of Science in Education.

This lesson looks at what cognitive impairment in children is, and how it becomes an issue. The reasons why children become or are cognitively impaired - medical condition, accident, genetic cause or due to disease - and how parents can help are detailed.

Cancer and Cognitive Impairment

When Kyle was born, his parents were ecstatic. He was the child they had been looking forward to since they were married seven years ago. He was a normal child who hit all of the developmental milestones (the ability to perform a certain skill by a specified age), and his pediatrician always told his parents that Kyle was developing normally. Then when he was just two years old, Kyle was diagnosed with leukemia. The oncologist said that the cancer had a 97% survival rate, since Kyle was so young when they caught it, and new treatments were being developed all the time. He underwent several rounds of chemo over the next 18 months and was pronounced to be cancer free at that time.

Then another problem developed. Kyle didn't meet the milestones as readily anymore. He was slow to learn how to identify colors and he had a great deal of difficulty with problem-solving tasks (such as building a puzzle). His pediatrician said not to worry, but Kyle's parents were worried that there might be some cognitive impairment.

What is Cognitive Impairment?

When asked the question, 'What is cognitive impairment?' many people may think of senior adults and respond with dementia or Alzheimer's. But, cognitive impairment is something that can happen anytime between the cradle and the grave. Cognitive impairment refers to deficient thought processes which leads to problems remembering, learning, concentrating and making decisions. It is a broad term and when applied to children can mean a variety of things. The cause can be accidental, genetic, the effect of a disease or because of a medical condition.

Accidental Cognitive Impairment

Children are generally more active than adults, but they do not have the same fine or gross motor skills yet. Due to developmental immaturity, children are prone to accidents. When an accident leads to cognitive impairment, it is called an acquired brain injury (ABI). This type of accident can cause the child's personality to change drastically, require that they be cared for constantly and may cause other difficulties, such as learning problems. Poisoning can also lead to long-term cognitive impairment.

Genetic Cognitive Impairment

Many different syndromes have as a member of their symptoms some degree of cognitive impairment. Down Syndrome is the most common genetic malady with this symptom, but there is also:

  • Williams Syndrome
  • Cerebral Palsy- In the case of cerebral palsy, cognitive impairment happens in some cases, but not all
  • Autism- It depends on what part of the spectrum the individual is on
  • Rett syndrome and many others

Potential parents can be tested for genetic abnormalities that may cause genetic issue for their children. Mothers are also tested for many genetic disorders prenatally.

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