Genetic Health Child Development

Many childhood health disorders are either completely genetic, or are caused in part by genes. All parents want their children to have full and happy lives and this can be challenged by conditions affecting learning ability. Understanding genetics’ effect on child development can help parents give their children the best possible opportunities. When it comes to parent-child gene inheritance, genetic disorders commonly passed down include:

  • autism
  • Down’s Syndrome
  • fragile X syndrome
  • OCD.


Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are believed to have multiple causes. Family studies suggest that genetic inheritance is at least a partial cause. One third of all men who had childhood ADHD have biological children with ADHD. Symptoms of attention deficit conditions may include:

  • distractibility
  • hyperactivity (in ADHD)
  • impulsivity
  • inattention.

Research is now underway to find the genes associated with attention deficit conditions. Evidence for linkage has already been found on several chromosomes. People with ADHD often have low dopamine levels in the brain which may be genetically determined. Other possible causes for ADD/ADHD include:

  • brain injury before or after birth
  • environmental factors such as lead or maternal smoking during pregnancy
  • nutrition and food (sugar, food additives and/or lack of omega-3 fatty acids have an adverse affect on some children.)

Parents should rest assured that no sort of bad parenting is considered to be a cause of attention disorder problems.


Autism is another condition of complex origins. Children with autism experience developmental problems in these three areas:

  • behavior
  • language
  • social skills.

Autism seems to run in families, suggesting at least a partial genetic cause. Siblings of those with autism have a greater likelihood of being affected, and studies of twins show that they often share autistic traits. Researchers believe that many genes may be associated with a risk for autism, and that environmental factors also contribute. Spontaneous genetic mutations, often in older parents, may also be a cause of some autism cases.

Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is a genetic inheritance disorder caused by being born with an extra copy of Chromosome 21. This genetic mutation, also sometimes called trisomy 21, causes a variety of physical and mental challenges. Children with Down syndrome are affected by mild to moderate mental retardation, along with these classic physical characteristics:

  • abnormally shaped ears
  • deep crease in palms
  • flat face
  • poor muscle tone
  • small hands and feet
  • upward slanting eyes with white spots on irises.

Down syndrome also leaves its victims susceptible to many health conditions including:

  • cataracts
  • celiac disease
  • congenital heart disease
  • dementia
  • intestinal and skeletal problems
  • poor hearing
  • thyroid difficulties.

Fragile X Syndrome

The most common cause of inherited mental retardation is Fragile X syndrome. Here are some symptoms of this childhood health disorder:

  • intellectual problems ranging from mild learning disabilities to severe mental retardation
  • loose flexible joints and flat feet
  • social and emotional problems including possible aggression, attention difficulties or shyness
  • speech and language difficulties.

Fragile X syndrome occurs when there is a change in the FMR1 gene, which normally makes protein for the developing brain. The Fragile X mutation causes the body to make only a little bit of this protein, or even none at all. Parents with no symptoms may have an altered FMR1 gene which can be passed along undetected for many generations. With each generation, it becomes more likely that the gene will become a full mutation, and that a child will be born with Fragile X syndrome.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is another developmental problem in children with at least a partial genetic cause. Symptoms of OCD include:

  • anxiety (often severe)
  • disturbing obsessive thoughts
  • repetitive behaviors.

OCD has been found to run in families, and close relatives of those with OCD are up to nine times more likely to develop it than the general population. While no one gene is considered responsible for OCD, the glutamate transporter gene SLC1A1 is believed to play a major role in the development of this condition.


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