Children injured before, during or after birth often develop cognitive and neurodevelopmental disabilities that require patience, love and resources from families, schools, and society. A child with intellectual, physical or emotional disabilities typically struggles in school or social situations, difficulties that continue into adulthood in many cases. Certainly, parents and siblings of a child with special needs share the frustrations that come with overcoming daily challenges, such as learning to read and write or even tie shoelaces. Some perinatal factors contributing to neurodevelopmental disabilities and disorders cannot be helped. Nature simply takes its course. However, when a physician negligently performs below the standard practice of medical care and treatment required by similarly-situated medical professionals during childbirth, both mother and child may be injured. Cognitive disorders are among the most serious and unpardonably common results of birth injuries.
Injuries due to negligence during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or postpartum range from mild to severe. Regardless of the severity, it is heartbreaking to see your child suffer. You most likely want to make sure your child has the resources to help them live the best life they can. Fortunately, a successful medical malpractice lawsuit can often yield the necessary resources to support your child’s health and long-term well-being. Find out about your options by seeking legal counsel from New Jersey attorneys with extensive medical malpractice experience. You can reach our legal team for a free consultation anytime by calling 866-708-8617 or filling out our online form.
Potential Causes of Neurodevelopmental Disabilities in Children
Birth injuries can lead to cognitive or neurodevelopmental disabilities, which are disorders that impair the growth and development of the brain and central nervous system. Individuals with these conditions experience impairments in brain function that may affect their ability to learn, control their emotions, remember things, and/or relate to others. Further, children with neurodevelopmental disorders are often delayed in reaching critical milestones that occur earlier for children without such disabilities. For example, a child may not speak until much later than what is considered the norm, around 2 years old. Sometimes a milder disability doesn’t appear until the child goes to school and has trouble processing information. Along with birth injuries, many factors contribute to the development of cognitive disabilities in children, such as:
- Parental health
- Parental habits, like smoking and drinking during pregnancy
- Birth complications
- Maternal illness, such as infections
- Environmental poisons, like lead
- Low birth weight
- Premature birth
- Multiple birth; and
- Untreated jaundice.
The most common neurodevelopmental disability causes are fetal alcohol syndrome, genetics (siblings of autistic children are more likely to be autistic or on the autism spectrum), chromosomal defects leading to Down and fragile X syndromes, and infections. All may result in intellectual impairment.
How Injuries at Birth May Cause Cognitive Disorders
7.4 out of 1,000 children are born with an injury from birth, most commonly with brachial plexus palsy, facial paralysis, spinal cord injuries, bone fractures, brain hematomas, oxygen deprivation deficits, and cerebral palsy. These injuries have a strong association with neurodevelopmental disorders that children are forced to cope with for the remainder of their lives.
Errors at Birth: Potential Impact on Brain Development
Perinatal factors and head injury all may result in neurological disorders, including seizures, mental retardation, schizophrenia, ADHD, autism and cerebral palsy. Labor longer than 18 hours, causing extended compression of the brain, is correlated to trauma affecting the brain, resulting in ADD and ADHD. Autism and Asperger’s are likewise connected to birth and oxygen deprivation. Oxygen deprivation is also potentially responsible for social anxiety and fine motor skills dysfunction. Vacuum extraction and forceps injuries caused by excessive pressure on the brain may also lead to developmental problems. However, oxygen deprivation alone may not be the only cause of infant brain injuries and resulting neurodevelopmental disabilities. A combination of brain trauma from blunt force and other sources of skull fractures with oxygen deprivation may cause cognitive dysfunction in children.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that cerebral palsy, a specific cognitive developmental disability, affects roughly 1 in 323 children. Though not the only cause of cerebral palsy, oxygen deprivation due to birth injury has been insinuated in many cerebral palsy cases. Children with cerebral palsy typically experience cognitive deficiencies, such as learning difficulties and poor decision-making skills; emotional difficulties, such impulsiveness and inappropriate outbursts; as well as physiological challenges, such as speech and communication challenges. The mildness or severity of cerebral palsy symptoms varies from case to case.
Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Caused by Traumatic Brain Injuries at Birth
A common source of neurological damage is traumatic head injury before, during or after delivery, which occurs in 2% to 4% of all births. Head injury correlates to how the baby was delivered, premature birth, decreased fetal heart rate, shoulder dystocia, male gender, birth weight, head circumference, delayed delivery, fetal macrosomia, hematomas of the brain, low Apgar scores, skull fractures, instrumental deliveries, second stage labor over an hour long, epidural anesthesia, number of births of the mother, and maternal age. In addition, brain bleeds during birth and brain swelling may affect social development, while oxygen deprivation may affect motor development.
Knowing the Signs of Cognitive Disability in Your Child
Sometimes birth-related injuries and other causes of cognitive disorders and disabilities take years to show symptoms and get diagnosed. Milder forms of cognitive disabilities include delayed learning of basic math and reading, as well as fine motor skills. More serious forms include disabilities on the autism spectrum, from ADHD to Asperger’s and autism. Early signs of these disorders in babies include late rolling over, crawling, walking, talking, self-feeding, or expressing emotion appropriately. For example, violent tantrums may occur often. If your child shows any of these signs, seeking help from an experienced medical professional is paramount.
Then, if your child is ultimately diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disability, you may wish to consult a knowledgeable birth injury attorney who can investigate your child’s case to uncover negligence that may have contributed to their current condition. Typical negligence during birth includes improper use of delivery instruments (forceps and vacuum extraction), faulty decision-making in emergency situations, failing to detect fetal distress, negligent oversight of oxygen intake, failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis of conditions like maternal infections or fetal abnormalities.
In New Jersey, the time in which to file a medical malpractice action is extended for minors and individuals with disabilities. However, getting a lawyer involved in your child’s potential birth injury case as soon as possible will provide the time necessary to investigate what happened and prepare to bring a successful legal action.
Questions about Your Rights if a Birth Injury Caused a Child’s Cognitive Disorder or Disability?
If you are seeking more information about the legal options and avenues that may be available to you because your child suffers from a neurodevelopmental disability, it is critical to obtain personalized guidance from an experienced birth injury lawyer. Our team has been assisting birth injury victims and families throughout New Jersey for years and we are here to help. Call 866-708-8617 for a free review of your child’s case and discuss bringing a lawsuit for financial damages.