Practitioner Review: Early adversity and developmental disorders

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BackgroundKnowledge of genetic influences, on developmental disorders such as autism spectrum, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities, has increased the opportunities for understanding the influences of the early environment.MethodsThis paper provides a selective, narrative review for clinicians of the effects of factors such as exposure to toxins and stresses in utero and in postnatal life; brain injuries and perinatal compromise; neglect, malnutrition and selective food deficiencies. It also considers what is known about the mechanisms through which early adversities operate.ResultsGaps in the research are identified and suggestions made about clinical investigations. Several types of environmental adversity have associations with later disorders that suggest a causal role. The effects are often on a broad range of psychological processes, and are not always quickly reversible. Several adversities often coexist, calling for skilled judgement about priorities in treatment.ConclusionsIndividuals vary considerably in their exposure to adversity and their vulnerability to its effects, and genetic inheritance can influence both.

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