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Environmental Chemicals and Learning Disabilities

Environmental Chemicals and Learning Disabilities

In the United States, conditions that make it difficult for children to understand, interact, or behave appropriately are widespread and growing. Learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD), hyperactivity. Autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disabilities are becoming more and more common among children.

The financial costs of special education and medical services as well as the social and emotional toll on children and caregivers are all part of the strain these disabilities place on families and society.                                                                                                                             

Primary Learning and Behavioral Problems

Children with learning disabilities have considerable difficulty reading, writing, doing math and therefore struggle in school. Children with learning disabilities can excel in some areas while having difficulty in others.

  1. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD) refers to a persistent pattern of being inattentive and easily distracted. It can manifest with or without impulsivity and hyperactivity. Almost 60% of children with ADD/ADHD also have a developmental disability, the most common of which is a learning disability.
  2. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) struggle to communicate, engage, and behave appropriately with others. The degree of impairment varies from serious to minor. Boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism, as well as many other developmental disorders. In the last decade, the number of ASD diagnoses has risen fourfold. It’s unclear if this reflects better detection of autistic children or a growing number of people with the disorder itself.
  3. Children with restricted intellectual function and  limited adaptive behaviour (life skills) are  characterized as having an intellectual disability (formerly known as mental retardation). Reasoning, literacy, social skills, and practical life skills can be affected in children with intellectual disabilities. In the past it was identified in children with an IQ of 70 or lower.                                       

Risk Factors for Children

Early life experiences affect how a child’s brain development provides a strong or weak basis for all future learning, actions, and health.  Issues including long-term family stress, the lack of stimulation from the learning environment, and the absence of engaged caregivers in early childhood have been shown to impair children’s brain development. Poor nutrition, fetal exposure to infectious agents, and exposure to harmful chemicals such as lead and mercury may all have an impact upon a child’s brain and neurological development.

While down syndrome is directly related to genetic defects, autism and ADHD tend to be the product of a dynamic relationship between genes and the environment.

From the first trimester of pregnancy to puberty, a child’s brain and nervous system develop and grow. Environmental chemicals can permanently alter the architecture and function of the developing brain.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

According to the National Library of Science , only about 3% of developmental conditions are caused exclusively by toxic environmental exposure, while the remaining 25% are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Cost of Early Life Exposure to Environmental Chemicals

Researchers in New York  have calculated the cost of exposure to environmental chemicals upon children with a variety of academic and behavioral problems.

They calculated the costs of intellectual disabilities caused by lead poisoning and prenatal methylmercury toxicity. They also studied the costs of autism, ADD/ADHD, and intellectual disability caused by environmental chemicals.

Over the course of a child’s lifespan, the expenses considered were largely health care costs and decreased economic growth. Environmental chemicals were reported to be responsible for $74.3 billion in annual costs in the United States.

Early childhood exposure to lead and its impact on intelligence was projected to cost  $675 million per year in lost income in the state of Washington.

Environmental Chemicals to look out for  

Environmental chemicals linked to developmental brain disorder can be present in consumer goods and a child’s environment.

There are a number of chemicals in the environment that are known to negatively impact brain development. These include: 

  • Lead
  • Methyl mercury
  • Tobacco smoke (contains multiple chemicals)
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBS)
  • Manganese
  • Organophosphate insecticides

Environmental chemicals suspected to interfere with normal brain development include :

  • Arsenic
  • Bisphenol A
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)
  • Phthalate

These chemicals are present in air, food, water, house dust, and soil. Most of the time we are not aware of our exposure to these environmental hazards. That’s why they have been labeled as the “silent killers”. 

Indoor air and indoor environments, such as schools and homes have been linked to have the highest rate of these “silent killers”. Sadly these are one of the places where children spend the most time. This is believed to be the primary reason for the increase in numbers of children who have developed a learning disability today. All classrooms everywhere should contain HEPA Air Purifiers with activated carbon to safeguard children’s health.