An Overview Of Common Developmental Disorders

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Developmental disorders can affect people of all backgrounds and intellectual ability levels. While some can be severe and affect a person’s ability to carry out daily tasks, others can be mild and may go largely unnoticed to others. However, in many cases developmental disorders are diagnosed in childhood. In these cases, they often affect certain areas of growth or development that are typical for a person at a given age. These disorders may improve as a child becomes an adult, but developmental disorders can still affect adults later in life. Although these conditions differ from mental illnesses, some people with developmental disabilities also experience comorbid mental health concerns. 

In this article, we’ll cover some of the more common developmental disorders, their possible causes, and the treatments available for these disorders, including therapeutic approaches that take into account a person’s strengths while helping them work toward improvement. 

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, encompasses a wide variety of autism diagnoses, ranging from mild to severe. Some people have mild autism that doesn’t interfere much with their lives. There are plenty of adults who are living with autism and have jobs, spouses, and children. Other people may have a more severe case of autism that affects their ability to speak or perform tasks that are often considered neurotypical.

The exact cause of autism is still unknown. While some believe that it’s a genetic condition, others say it's caused by factors a child is exposed to as they grow up. What research has shown is that autism is a disorder related to the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is involved in numerous functions, including memory, muscle movements, and sensation. Researchers believe that the brains of individuals with autism are wired differently.

Since autism exists on a spectrum, different people may have different symptoms, and their severity can vary. One of the major symptoms typically involves socialization. Some people with autism tend to not like eye contact. They might not like to be touched, and they may have have sensory difficulties and prefer to be alone. Some individuals with autism may exhibit unique behaviors in social situations, and some may become easily overstimulated. These are just a few examples; the behaviors and preferences of people with ASD can be as diverse as those of all people.

Although there is no cure for autism, there are ways to treat some of the symptoms, and treatment can vary depending on the person. For example, someone with ASD who has difficulty communicating may benefit from therapy to learn different ways to communicate. Therapists may provide auditory training, music therapy, physical therapy, and other therapeutic approaches. Aside from those approaches, internet therapy for autism spectrum disorder may also help.


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is another common developmental disorder. When people think of ADHD, they may imagine a child who is hyperactive and experiences difficulty paying attention. While this may be true for some children, there can be a lot more to ADHD than just that. As with autism, researchers don't know the exact cause of ADHD, but they have divided this condition into three subtypes:

Predominantly inattentive

An individual with this subtype may experience difficulty focusing, become distracted easily, become easily bored, have difficulty learning and processing new information, and experience difficulty completing homework.

Predominantly hyperactive

With this type of ADHD, a person may feel the need to move around constantly. Although many children naturally run around and are energetic, a child with predominantly hyperactive ADHD might have difficulty sitting in their seat without feeling uncomfortable. They can also be inattentive and have challenges with impulse control. In other words, they may do things without thinking first, such as telling an adult how they really feel or running into danger without thinking.


Combined ADHD occurs when a child has both hyperactive and inattentive traits. They may lean toward one or the other or have traits from both in relatively equal amounts.

ADHD, like autism, has no cure, but there are treatment options. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the first-line treatment for children in preschool tends to be behavioral therapy, including training for parents, before a child is prescribed medication. For other children, a combination of behavior therapy and medication may be used. With the right guidance, proper diagnoses and treatment plans may relieve symptoms and make them more manageable to live with. It’s recommended that you always consult a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

Reading disorders

A child may be highly intelligent and willing to read, but their reading level might be lower than average for their age, which may lead to a diagnosis of a reading disorder. As with any disorder, the degree of impact can vary. Some people may be able to read with relative ease but may experience difficulty with a few words, while others cannot read at all.

Sometimes, a child may have poor reading skills due to poor instructions or a hearing or visual difficulty. Other times, it's because of a developmental disorder. One of the most common reading disorders is dyslexia.


With dyslexia, a child may have trouble reading or decoding words fluently. According to Yale University, dyslexia affects around 20% of the population and can be a byproduct of other developmental disorders, such as ADHD. Some adults can develop dyslexia if they have a brain injury, and there may be genetic factors that play a role as well.

While there is no known way to cure dyslexia, it can be treated with therapy and practice. A person living with dyslexia may need a safe place to learn to read. There are also fonts that may make it easier for a person with dyslexia to read. 


On the opposite end of the dyslexic spectrum is hyperlexia. This occurs when a child has reading skills beyond those of the average person their age. Many people with hyperlexia have trouble with reading comprehension and understanding of speech. There is a strong link between hyperlexia and autism, with research showing that 84% of people with the condition also being on the autism spectrum.  

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Developmental stuttering

According to Cleveland Clinic, developmental stuttering is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Stuttering occurs when the flow of speech gets interrupted by involuntary repetition of sounds, syllables, words, phrases, etc. Speech can also be interrupted by long pauses, which is referred to as stammering. Its severity can vary from person to person. Some may have a mild stutter that doesn't affect their speech much, while others may have a more severe stutter that can make communication challenging.

There is no known cause of stuttering. It may be hereditary, as research shows that someone with a first-degree family member with a stutter may be three times more likely to experience stuttering. It could also be genetic or a result of a difference in brain structure. 

There is no cure for stuttering, but there are treatment options available, including speech therapy.

Tourette’s syndrome

Also known as Tourette's, this is a developmental disorder that tends to involve tics, both motor and vocal. Tics are sudden, repetitive, and involuntary movements, which may be mild or severe.

The exact cause of  isn't known, but as with many developmental disorders, it may be due to genetic and environmental factors. There is no cure for Tourette's syndrome, but medication and therapy may help treat many of the involuntary tics. Also, the symptoms often become less frequent as children go through puberty. 

Are you worried about your child’s development?

Online counseling with BetterHelp

If you are living with a developmental disorder, counseling may help bring out your strengths and mitigate some of the symptoms you’re experiencing. If you don’t feel comfortable with traditional in-person therapy, you might try online therapy. 

With BetterHelp, you can attend therapy sessions from the comfort of your home or wherever you have an internet connection. You can participate in sessions in a way that is most comfortable for you, whether by phone, live chat, videoconferencing, or a combination of these modalities. A licensed therapist may be able to provide you with resources to better understand developmental disorders and evidence-based strategies to overcome any challenges you may be facing.  

The efficacy of online counseling

Recent studies have shown that online therapy can be effective in treating symptoms of certain developmental disorders. One study that was published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders assessed the potential benefits of an online intervention for older adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Researchers utilized a psychoeducational resource facilitated by disability service professionals to evaluate the efficacy of the program as well as participant satisfaction. They found that 79% of participants completed the study and reported high satisfaction with the treatment.  

Counselor reviews

“Kenneth is a spectacular and very understanding counselor. I really appreciate that he genuinely understands my experiences with ADHD, as well as anxiety and depression, and gives me very helpful, step by step, plans to overcome my issues and get to the root of them. I also greatly appreciate that he is great at validating and giving me a safe space to talk and not feel judged, but rather empowered and happy! I highly recommend him!”

“Tasha has been amazing in the few months I've worked with her, and she's really helped me a lot! She's been really patient with me and with the technical issues that arise sometimes, and she's always a listening ear and a great "common sense" voice that has helped me a lot during times of anxiety or depressive episodes. She's helped me a lot with all the useful info and worksheets she's provided with techniques and information on calming techniques, challenging my catastrophic thought processes, and dealing with my ADHD. Tasha is really great!! I've loved talking to and working with her.”


Developmental disorders can manifest in a variety of ways and to various degrees in different individuals. If you are experiencing a developmental disorder, you don’t have to face it alone. In addition to special resources available for those with a developmental disorder, online therapy may help you learn to make the most of your strengths and teach you ways to overcome any challenges you may be facing. With online therapy, you can be matched with a licensed therapist who has experience with your specific areas of concern. Take the first step toward getting support and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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