The Total Load Theory: Why So Many Children Have Developmental Problems

by Kelly Dorfman, MS, LND, Co-founder, Developmental Delay Resources

An increasing number of children are being diagnosed with cognitive and development delays. As a result, drugs are being used in unprecedented ways to control behavior and learning. While medication may provide short-term relief, the underlying cause of the problems must be identified or the trend will continue.

Typical scientific analysis of the situation would require a series of experiments to isolate single factors causing the “disease”. Unfortunately, developmental problems are not illnesses caused by germs or a specific brain malfunction but are a group of symptoms created when the body has been stressed beyond normal endurance.

According to the total load theory, at some point, which varies widely between individuals, the body can no longer handle the “load” of stressors such as nutritional deficiencies and aggressive use of medications, and begins to show signs of that burden. The signs of overload are the characteristic symptoms of attention deficiencies and developmental delays.

Children are much more sensitive reactors to external forces than their parents. Because their nervous systems are still maturing and their bodies are growing in size, they cannot as easily handle extra strain. Between the ages 18 months and two years of age is a particularly vulnerable time because of the extra demands of cognitive milestones such as the evolution of speech and the need to relate to others in more complex ways.

The following is a brief description of some of the known components of the total load leading to develop­mental problems.

Birth trauma– This includes the obvious known problems such as oxygen deprivation, along with the subtle problems such as emergency C-sections.

Pregnancy complications– The DDR survey noted some association between higher numbers of pregnancy complica­tions and later developmental delay diagnoses. Diabetes, toxemia and the use of some medications for illnesses suffered during the gestational period may contribute.

Parents with immune/nutrient deficiencies-There is evidence that parents of delayed children as a population may have more medical problems than average. Severe allergies, a history of infertility problems, autoimmune diseases (such as Grave’s disease) and chronic fatigue syndrome are some of the diagnoses often seen. Parents should not feel guilty. Nobody knows why an association is passed on in some cases but not others.

Insufficient sensory stimulation– Toddlers adopted from institutions can be so impaired from sensory deprivation that this factor alone is known to account for later problems.

Nutritional deficiencies– If the body lacks specific nutrients, it simply does not do the functions that require those nutrients. For example, if infants are born deficient in zinc, they will have weaker immune systems. Severe vitamin C deficiencies in infants have been linked to sudden infant death syndrome. Essentially fatty acid insufficiencies contribute to neurological damage.

Aggressive Use of Medication– An inherently weak immune system may lead to illnesses treated aggressively with antibiotics and other drugs. The medication itself has its own set of side-effects which contribute to developmental issues.

Environmental pollutants– We know from animal models that the immature nervous systems of infants, when exposed to environmental poisons, suffer 3-10 times more damage than their adult counterparts. Pollution is causing fertility, immu­nological and neurological problems in most other species.

Miscellaneous other markers– Frequent ear infections, colic, reflux, exclusive use of bottle feeding and unusually few number of normal childhood illnesses are all other factors seen more frequently in affected youngsters.

There are no truly typical cases when applying the total load theory. The combination of predisposing influences and expression of symptoms is as variable and individual as the children themselves. Each delayed child is unique yet all are related.