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A question we are often asked in clinic is “why are we seeing more and more cases of children with developmental difficulties?” There is not one simple answer for this. It is certainly true that numbers are rising as our awareness and knowledge of the difficulties improve. But we also continue to see higher numbers due to advancing changes in birthing practice and unfortunately higher rates of c-sections. Similarly, there is the belief that changing social attitudes towards women and pregnancy are leading to pregnant women unknowingly putting their baby through stressful situations with subsequent consequence and diet changes are also playing a large factor.
Most recently, pollutants are now being linked to such developmental difficulties.
It is no secret that the air quality is poor in the UK for such a developed nation. Searching the web displays figures and worrying statistics about the UK’s, particularly London’s, failure at achieving a satisfactory air quality level.
The main reason for this failure is the Governments push after the 1997 Kyoto treaty, seeking to reduce global CO2 emissions, to change the UK car population from petrol to diesel. Several incentives have been provided, indeed many still are, to purchase diesel engines as they save the government from large penalty fines. However the affect this has had on air quality has been dramatic, as although Diesel engines produce far less CO2 emissions, their affect on air quality by the pollutants they emit is far worse then petrol engines.
Nearing 20 years on, while medical advice has continued to warn against the affects on current populations, the view and incentives haven't changed. Mr Gardiner, the shadow environment minister, has since publicly stated: “there’s absolutely no question that the decision we took (to incentivise diesel) was the wrong decision”
Mr Gardiner continues: “It was right to move away from vehicles that push out CO2, but the impact is a massive public health problem.”
Adding: “The real tragedy is after we set up the committee on the medical effects of air pollution and it reported back in 2010 we’ve had five years that this government has done nothing about it.”
In August 2014, Britain was being sued by the European Commission for breaching air pollution limits, because emissions from diesel vehicles were and continue to contribute to tens of thousands of premature deaths each year.
It is nearing 20 years since the increase in diesel engines was promoted and now increasing studies are showing large correlations between air pollutants and developmental difficulties. The most recent study linking air pollution to premature birth rates, conducted in California, USA and a global study linking pollutants to low birth weight. Both of these are known to be precursors for a child to have a higher chance of developing chronic health problems like diabetes and heart disease later in life. But there is every chance that these are also contributing to higher rates of Dyslexia, ASD cases and other difficulties.
There are many apps today that monitor pollution levels in London or where you live and while the government will be quick to point out that pollutant levels have dropped slightly in the last 20 years, there are many who counter this. This also does not mean that they are at what many medical professionals consider a satisfactory and safe level.
In short unless you can move to a cleaner air, remote area, we should all be wary of activity levels during "rush hours" and in heavily congested traffic and industrial areas. Particularly those at higher risk, such as children, expectant mothers and the elderly.
Catherine Paddocks article on Pollution and Low birth weight http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/255994.php?sr
Marie Ellis' Air pollution and premature birth in the US http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/308406.php
JAMA Pediatrics, the peer reviewed medical journal, published results of a recent study that was conducted in Canada. The study, as you may have read in the U.K. Telegraph and Mail, concluded that use of anti-depressants in the 2nd and 3rd trimester of pregnancy, lead to an increased probability of a child born with Autism. This is a worry as currently there are 6-10% of pregnant women who are suffering from depression and taking antidepressants.
This study was well conducted, tracking just under 150,000 pregnancies. While it was briefly acknowledged in the publication, there is the aspect of hereditary factors to be considered. It has been well documented at the David Mulhall Centre over the 23 years of practice, that genetics are often the major lead to developmental conditions and likelihood of ASD. It could just be that in the test group of mothers, there was a higher percentage that were battling depression due to contending with developmental conditions of their own.
The link was more importantly made to those using SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which are also the most commonly used form of anti-depressant. However this study alone cannot prove the direct link between the two. But it is certainly a strong association to be seriously taken into account and is certainly indicative of the environmental changes in our modern lifestyle that are having negative affects of our children’s development.
As always, it is worthwhile being extremely conscious of anything consumed or taken during pregnancy, at any trimester. After the final phase of testing, pharmaceuticals are available to the public on a ‘phase IV’ testing, where they are administered to requesting patients in the US for a minimum of 2 years while being observed. This means that many medicines that are prescribed worldwide could have unknown and adverse long term effects.
The number of cases of ASD and other neurodevelopmental conditions diagnosed today continues to rise and while previously just being linked to better understanding, the rise is increasingly being linked to external environmental factors.
For example; JAMA Psychiatry published the findings of another study on the 16th December, highlighting the results that bouts of depression in preschool children affects brain development. This debunks the previous understanding that the brain developed in a predetermined way as depression was noted to have a particularly large effect on that of the brains grey matter (tissue connecting brain cells, that plays a role in the senses, emotions and memory).
The truth is that there are many different and complex parts to our growth and development, many of which are being negatively effected by changes in our modern lifestyle. These vary from even working or moving house while pregnant to different medications and stimulants (yes that includes caffeine) at different stages of pregnancy. Thankfully there is help to counteract these difficulties.
Are you worried about your pregnancy or do you or your child contend with a developmental condition or disorder? If so, get in touch with The David Mulhall Centre, where we have been working with such conditions in both children and adults for the last 23 years.
We have been experiencing a large increase in the numbers of recognised cases of developmental difficulties for decades now. When many were only identified in the late 70's and 80's this is understandable, but this shouldn't account for the numbers we see today. There are many possible reasons;
- Dietary Changes
- Differences in pregnancy routines and standard practice
- Changes in the birthing process
- Other environmental changes (pollution/stimulants/medicine)
The issues caused by excess screen time namely; blue wave light stimulation, changes to the bodies circadian rhythm, overstimulation to hormonal imbalance amongst others, are well documented. See article below.
But one other change to consider, is the lack of movement children are making. When continuously glued to iPads and tablets, they are becoming far more sedentary then ever before. Granted there have been books in the past that caused some children to be more sedentary and less active then others. However with iPads being so addictive and the many varying tasks (games, reading, internet, videos) that children can do on them, instead of just getting bored of reading, children will be seated with one all day, given the opportunity.
This lack of movement is halting vital developmental processes. Children engage certain movements when younger to stimulate developmental reflexes and progress onto adult postural reflexes. Most infant and primitive reflexes should be gone by the time the child can walk, but they can be retained longer. If there is such little movement after this stage, the cases where reflexes have retained longer then their natural timeframe, will be far less likely to release on their own accord. Perhaps this is leading to the rise in the number of cases we see today? See article below for other issues arising from lack of movement in youth.
How can we alter this?
The truth is the change needs to start closer to home then we think. On occasion I have parents in the clinic glued to their phone throughout the sessions. If this is the image a child see's, they are only going to want to emulate this themselves.
We could all do with less screen time, myself included.
Put down the phones/tablets and turn off the TV. Encourage face to face interaction, playing outside and creative games that utilise a childs' fantastic imagination.
While possibly met with resistance to begin with, not to mention harder to regulate/encourage/participate in as a parent, over time the rewards will be noticed by all. In development, confidence, social skills and most importantly, happiness.
This video explains the core principles as to why we have been using the Sound Sense programme at the David Mulhall Centre for decades.
Only 15 minutes long, it is worth watching whether you are a parent, expecting, experiencing any developmental difficulties yourself, or indeed even if you are looking to get that extra step ahead in your own life.
Disturbances in preterm birth brain development shown to have affect on the Thalamus. The brains 'sensory interpreter'.
We are beginning to be able to further understand and back up what has been suspected all along, thanks to advances in science and neuro-imaging.
While these studies are certainly not new. This is the first of its kind to link these questions to specific areas of the brain and to the communication circuitry that it uses.
More info - http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/284952.php?tw
Possible reason, alongside a better understanding, why we are continuing to see a rise in the diagnosis number of ADHD and other developmental problems.
While London is certainly not comparable to other Asian cities in its poor quality of air cleanliness, it has on several occasions failed to meet minimum required standards set by the EU.
Quote taken from full article available at
Hours after this was posted, the London Evening Standard published this article regarding London air quality.
'London's air pollution 'is making thousands more people die early each year'