Neurological Conditions

Adopt Special Needs: Special Needs - Neurological ConditionsA neurological condition is any disorder which affects the central nervous system. The nervous system acts as a command center for the body, and when communication is interrupted, a variety of disorders and symptoms are possible. This can be caused by a physical injury to the brain, nerves or the spinal cord as well as infections, diseases or genetics. 

Below is a list of the most common neurological conditions seen in children waiting for forever families. We provide the following information for reference purposes only and cannot attest to the accuracy of the information. We highly recommend speaking with an experienced physician for further details on each condition.

Common Neurological Conditions

Apraxia of Speech


Children with apraxia have difficulties with speech. Their brain has difficulty coordinating movement of the speech muscles. In a very young child, they may have a delay in speech development and trouble eating. In older children, they may have difficulty imitating sounds, be difficult to understand, have difficulty producing longer words or have more difficulty with speech when they are anxious.

Causes: 
Apraxia can be developmental or acquired. Developmental apraxia occurs in children and is present at birth. The causes for developmental apraxia are unknown; however researchers have found that children with this condition often have a family history of communication disorders or learning disabilities. Acquired apraxia can occur at any time in life and may be due to a brain injury, brain tumor or stroke.

Possible complications:
A child may acquire apraxia due to a brain injury such as a stroke, infections or traumatic brain injury. It may also occur due to a genetic disorder, syndrome or metabolic condition such as velocardiofacial syndrome and galactosemia.

Treatment:
Speech language therapy is necessary to help children with apraxia of speech. They will most likely need frequent and intensive one-on-one therapy. They may also benefit from learning additional forms of communication such as sign language.   

Prognosis: 
In many cases, with treatment, children with apraxia can live normal, healthy lives. However, the long-term prognosis depends on the cause and severity of apraxia as well as the effectiveness of speech therapy.

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Arachnoid Cyst

Adopt Special Needs: Special Needs - Neurological Conditions - Arachnoid Cyst
An arachnoid cyst is a fluid-filled sac that can develop between the surface of the brain and the cranial base or on the arachnoid membrane. Most cases begin during infancy, but sometimes the onset of symptoms may be delayed until adolescence. Some of the symptoms of a large cyst may be headaches, seizures, hydrocephalus, increased cranial pressure, developmental delay, behavioral changes, weakness or paralysis on one side of the body, lack of muscle control, head bobbing, and visual impairment.

Causes: 
Most arachnoid cysts are present at birth and while the specific cause is unknown, researchers believe they occur during development of the central nervous system. Arachnoid cysts can develop in adults as a result of brain surgery or injury.  

Possible complications:  
Arachnoid cysts can sometimes be associated with genetic disorders such as Cockayne syndrome and Menkes syndrome.

Treatment:
Smaller cysts that are causing no symptoms are normally just observed for changes. Larger cysts that are putting pressure on the brain and causing symptoms may require surgery.

Prognosis: 
Children with small cysts that cause no symptoms typically lead healthy lives. If larger cysts are treated early, the prognosis is usually very good and symptoms are resolved. If left untreated, severe, permanent brain damage can occur.

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Cerebral Palsy

Adopt Special Needs: Special Needs - Neurological Conditions - Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy
(CP) is a general term that describes any disorder affecting body movement and muscle control. There are many types of CP and a variety of symptoms such as stiff contracted muscles, lack of muscle tone, lack of coordination, poor balance, and uncontrolled movements. It can affect one or two limbs, half the body, or the entire body. It can also affect a child’s ability to use their facial muscles causing difficulty eating or speaking. Children with CP can have a wide spectrum of abilities. Some children are only mildly affected, while others will have severe complications and limitations.

Causes:
CP is usually present at birth and can be caused by genetic mutations and maternal infections during pregnancy such as measles, syphilis or exposure to toxins as well as a traumatic birth resulting in a lack of oxygen. It can also be caused by a stroke, infection in the brain, or traumatic brain injury.

Possible complications:
Some children with CP are unable to walk or speak. They may also have an underlying neurological condition. Muscle weakness, muscle spasticity and coordination problems can cause abnormal bone development, arthritis, breathing disorders and malnutrition.

Treatment:
Children with cerebral palsy can benefit from several areas of treatment.

  • Physical Therapy: PT can help your child strengthen and stretch weak muscle groups. This will also help with flexibility, balance, motor development and mobility.
  • Occupational Therapy: OT can help your child use adaptive equipment such as a walker, wheelchair or cane to gain as much independence as possible.  
  • Speech Therapy: Speech-language therapy can help your child strengthen the muscles necessary to speak. A therapist may also help your child use alternative communication methods, such as an electronic communication device, if speech is too difficult.
  • Surgery: Surgery can be used to help stretch tendons and muscles, lessoning contractures and reducing pain.

Prognosis: 
The long-term prognosis for a child cerebral palsy depends on the cause and severity of need. Many children with CP are able to live full and independent lives.

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Epilepsy

Adopt Special Needs: Special Needs - Neurological Conditions - Epilepsy
The brain is made up of millions of nerve cells gathered together.  By passing electrical signals to each other, these nerve cells can control the body’s function, senses and thoughts. Sometimes the process of exchanging signals is suddenly interrupted and a seizure occurs. About 1% of people in the United States may have at least one seizure. A diagnosis of epilepsy typically means a person has had two or more seizures not caused by an outside medical condition such as low blood sugar, fevers, or heart problems. There are different types of seizures, based on the part of the brain that is involved.  Some seizures present with sudden uncontrollable limb movements and unconsciousness, some present with staring and strange behavior, and some are only noticed by the child that is experiencing the seizure. Seizures usually begin in childhood, although they can happen at any age.

Causes: 
In about half of cases, the exact cause of epilepsy is unknown. In the other half of cases, the cause can be linked to genetics, head trauma, tumors or stroke, infectious diseases or even birth trauma.

Possible complications:
Left untreated, persistent seizures can lead to brain damage. Seizures can also put a person at risk in certain situations such as when driving a car. People diagnosed with epilepsy are also at risk for sudden, unexplained death.

Treatment:

  • Medication: Most people with epilepsy can become seizure-free by taking anti-seizure medication.
  • Surgery: If doctors are able to determine that the seizures all originate in the same area of the brain, they may be able to surgically remove that part of the brain to reduce eliminate seizures. Surgery can have significant side-effects.  
  • Diet: Some children with epilepsy have been able to reduce their seizures by following a ketogenic diet, high in fats and low in carbohydrates.

Prognosis: 
The long-term prognosis for epilepsy depends on the severity of seizures and treatment. If frequent, severe seizures have occurred without treatment, permanent brain damage is possible. However, over half of children diagnosed with epilepsy can eventually discontinue medication and lead a seizure-free life.

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Hydrocephalus

Adopt Special Needs: Special Needs - Neurological Conditions - Hydrocephalus
Hydrocephalus
occurs when the fluid in the brain cannot drain away into the bloodstream because the normal pathways are blocked. The fluid is still being made by the brain, so the buildup of fluid will cause pressure to rise inside the brain. A child with hydrocephalus may have abnormally large head measurements. They may experience difficulty feeding, irritability, delayed cognitive development, headaches, vomiting, blurred vision, difficulty walking and delayed growth.

Causes:
Our bodies continually produce cerebral spinal fluid, which circulates through the ventricles of the brain and the spinal column and is also absorbed by the body. Hydocephalus develops when there is an excess of fluid on the brain. This is usually caused by an obstruction, where fluid is blocked from leaving one part of the brain (non-communicating hydrocephalus). It can also rarely be caused by an overproduction of fluid or an inability for the body to absorb some of the fluid (communicating hydrocephalus). Hydrocephalus may occur in infancy or in older children and can be caused by a brain bleed (which may be as a result of a premature birth), meningitis, cysts or brain tumors, or other rare causes.

Possible complications:  
Left untreated, hydrocephalus can cause permanent brain damage. Children with hydrocephalus can also experience learning delays, hormonal imbalances, seizures, and hearing and vision issues. Hydrocephalus is also common in children with Spina Bifida.

Treatment:
The most common treatment for hydrocephalus is surgery to put in a shunt, which is a tube that helps drain fluid from the brain. One end of the tube is usually placed in a ventricle of the brain and the other end is put in a part of the body where the cerebral spinal fluid can be more easily absorbed, such as the abdomen or the heart. Another option is a Ventriculostomy, which is a surgical procedure where a doctor creates a hole in one of the ventricles to help drain the fluid. This surgery is not an option for every child, and there is also a risk that the hole will close on its own.

Prognosis: 
The long-term prognosis for children with hydrocephalus depends on the severity and treatment. Children who also have spina bifida may have more long-term complications. Untreated, hydrocephalus can be fatal. However, with early intervention, many kids with hydrocephalus go on to lead healthy lives.

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Spina Bifida

Adopt Special Needs: Neurological Conditions - Spina Bifida
During early development, the spinal column begins as a flat plane. In the first month of pregnancy it begins to curl and eventually seals into a tube shape. When a child has spina bifida, this means the tube did not completely seal. There are three types of spina bifida:

  • Occulta: This is the mildest form and involves an opening into the vertebrae without a protrusion of the spinal cord or meninges. Many people do not know they have this. There may be a large mold or patch of hair or a deep dimple on the skin along the spine.
  • Meningocele: The spinal cord will have developed normally, but when the child is born there is a sac protruding from a hole in the vertebrae and out of the back. It is important to have surgery early as the sac may break and infection and nerve damage may occur. Often this form of spina bifida does not present any problems once the back is closed.
  • Myelomeningocele(Meningomyelocele): This is the most common and the most serious form of spina bifida. The protruding sac on the back will contain tissue, spinal fluid, nerves and part of the spinal cord. The spinal cord may be damaged or not properly formed. There is always some degree of paralysis and loss of sensation below the damaged vertebrae. Children may need a walker or wheel chair depending on the level of paralysis.

Causes: 
The exact causes of spina bifida are unknown. However, genetics may play a role as well as high fevers and certain medications.  A lack of folic acid during pregnancy may also lead to neural tube defects.

Possible complications:  
Children with myelomeningocele often have hydrocephalus and/or clubbed feet. Some children with spina bifida have problems such as curvatures in the back, hip dislocation, ankle and foot deformities and contracted muscles. Depending on the severity of the spina bifida, children are also at greater risk for paralysis and infection.

Treatment:
Children with meningocele and myelomeningocele need surgery to put the meninges (nerves) back into the spinal column and close the opening in the spine.

Prognosis: 
The long-term prognosis for children with spina bifida depends on the severity and treatment. Surgery should be done as early as possible to have the best possible results. However, children in certain countries may not be able to have early intervention. The longer a child goes without surgery, the greater the risk for serious, long-term complications such as infection and paralysis.

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