Growth Disorders

By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

Most short children do not have a serious growth problem. Many grow at a normal rate and reach an adult height that is about the same as their parents. A child's rate of growth is an important clue to the presence or absence of a growth problem: A child who is growing at a slower than normal rate may have a serious problem, regardless of his or her height. A growth disorder is any type of problem in infants, kids, or teens that prevents them from meeting realistic expectations of growth. Disorders may include failure to thrive in infancy, failure to gain height and weight in young children, and short stature or delayed sexual development in teens.

There are many causes of growth failure in children. Some are constitutional, some are genetic, and some are the result of hormonal disorders. Shorter parents tend to have shorter children, a condition known as familial (or genetic) short stature. This term applies to short children who do not have any symptoms of diseases that affect growth. Children with familial short stature still have growth spurts and enter puberty at normal ages, but they usually will only reach a height similar to that of their parents.

Growth hormone deficiency (GHD) is a disease, where a child's body fails to produce adequate amounts of growth hormone, resulting in growth retardation. GHD may be present at birth, or it may begin at any time during infancy or childhood. It is usually the result of the pituitary gland failing to produce adequate levels of growth hormone. With growth hormone treatment, children with GHD can reach an adult height within the normal range.

Malnutrition on a constant basis prevents children from reaching their full growth potential. The body becomes weak and frail and usually shows signs that muscle or bone tissue is wasting. Malnutrition is the most common cause of growth failure around the world, primarily due to lack of protein and other basic nutrients ion the diet. A well balanced diet will help prevent or overcome this disorder.

When a child with growth related disorder is faced with rebuke, criticism and humiliation, it can take a toll on his/her social, academic and economic development. People often judge someone's age based on his/her height and proceed to act toward the other person, particularly if it is a child, as though they are actually as old as they appear. Once your child is diagnosed with growth related disorder, you should ask your pediatric endocrinologist or pediatrician who they would recommend to carry out psychological testing on your child. This is essential in order to know if there are problems in intelligence, academic achievement, learning disability, attention deficit disorders or behavior problems. Develop a positive self-image in your child. Try to use every opportunity to praise and encourage, do not criticize, be sarcastic, or negative. Find your child's strengths and work to build on them. Finally, be sure you and your child fully understand what is to be expected from growth hormone therapy. Some studies suggest that children and parents have unrealistic expectations for the changes in height that therapy might bring. The proper combination of support, counseling, and medical treatment will help produce a better, all-around outcome.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,