Childhood health issues can be stressful and frightening. For a biological child, you may have some warning based on family history or genetic testing conducted during pregnancy. For example, if a family has a history of diabetes, it may not come as a surprise when a child develops diabetes or other endocrine disorders.
However, this information is usually not available when adopting a child. This can result in childhood health issues that appear unexpectedly.
Here are ten ideas for detecting and preventing childhood health issues in adoption:
An adoption agency may not be able to provide the health history of an adopted child or the child’s biological family. However, they are usually able to provide some background information, like the names of the child’s parents. Using this information and online resources, you may be able to find out more about the child’s family history.
For example, obituaries are widely available online. By searching the parents’ names, you may be able to learn about the causes of death of the grandparents, aunts, uncles, or even siblings.
Similarly, genealogical information is also available on many free and paid websites. These websites provide information going back several generations in some situations, which allows a family doctor to assess any genetic diseases that may potentially affect an adopted child.
Get a Genetic Test
Many DNA testing services can provide testing for genetic diseases. In fact, some labs combine ancestry and health testing in a single service. This enables you to discover your adopted child’s ancestral makeup as well as identify many of the childhood health issues that might have a genetic link.
Specifically, a DNA test can give you information about:
- Current genetic diseases: One of the most important pieces of information that DNA tests reveal is genetic diseases that your adopted child already has. For example, cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease. If a child has the DNA marker for cystic fibrosis, the child has the disease.
- Future genetic diseases: Genetic diseases, like Huntington’s disease, are genetic but do not develop until later in life. Huntington’s disease, for example, manifests as dementia when the patient reaches 50 to 60 years old.
- Disease propensities: Some markers are not associated with the disease, but rather a propensity to develop a disease. For example, the breast cancer gene does not mean that a child has breast cancer. However, it does mean that the child may develop breast cancer later in life.
- Disease carrier: Some genetic diseases require a combination of genes from both parents for the disease to manifest itself. A child may be a carrier for a disease by carrying one of the genes. If the child has children later in life with another carrier, your grandchildren may have the genetic disease.
- Genetic risk: Some diseases have both a genetic component and an environmental component. For example, heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease are associated with genes that might increase a child’s risk. However, eating healthy, exercising, and visiting a doctor regularly might prevent the disease from ever manifesting.
Approximately 34 million adults in the U.S. smoke and smoking has one of the greatest negative effects on a person’s health. Smoking increases the smoker’s risk of cancer, heart disease, and lung disease. After going through the time and effort of the adoption, smoking will, to put it bluntly, shorten the time you have to spend with your adopted child.
Smoking also increases the chances that those breathing second-hand smoke will develop those diseases. In other words, smoking around your adopted child will increase the child’s risk of developing cancer, heart disease, and lung disease even if the child never smokes.
However, the greatest risk created by smoking is that the children of smokers are three to six times more likely to smoke compared to children of non-smokers. This means that children of smokers are not just affected by second-hand smoke. Rather, they are affected by a higher propensity to take up the habit themselves.
Visit a Dentist
Like all children, an adopted child should see a pediatric dentist between 6 and 12 months of age. A dentist should check your child’s teeth and gums after the child’s teeth begin to erupt to make sure that the teeth are coming in correctly and the child’s jaw and soft tissues are normal.
As the child ages, your child will develop this relationship with the child’s dentist. As a result, dentists recommend introducing the child to the dentist early so that they do not develop a fear of the dentist. Moreover, an early visit to the dentist gives both you and your child the opportunity to learn about preventative procedures like toothbrushing, flossing, and annual checkups.
From the time that the child’s teeth begin to erupt, regular brushing and flossing are critical to minimize the risk of dental cavities. The bacteria on the teeth feed on sugars in the food that gets stuck to teeth. As the bacteria metabolize the sugars, they produce acid that eats away at the tooth’s surface. If the food and bacteria are not regularly removed through brushing and flossing, cavities will inevitably result.
Likewise, annual visits allow deep cleaning of the teeth, fluoride treatment (if needed), and x-rays to diagnose problems that might not be visible to the naked eye. Dentists can also monitor any misalignment in the teeth or jaw and recommend orthodontic treatment if needed.
Nutrition is key to preventing childhood health issues. When an older child is adopted, you might be unaware of what nutritional deficiencies the child may have. As a result, maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet may be necessary to avoid any diseases caused by missing nutrients.
Some nutritional diseases include:
- Rickets: A skeletal disease caused by a lack of vitamin D or calcium in the diet.
- Scurvy: A disease that causes weakness, fatigue, and swelling caused by a lack of vitamin C.
- Beriberi: A heart disease that occurs when a diet lacks vitamin B-1.
On the other end of the spectrum, eating a balanced and nutritious diet can also minimize the risk of obesity. Obesity affects about 20% of children and can increase their risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, and some types of cancers. Being overweight or obese can also lead to physical problems like arthritis in the back, hips, knees, and ankles.
Rather than straining the body and potentially needing a chiropractor early in life, eating a nutritious diet in reasonable portions can help keep body weight at a healthy level.
One of the simplest ways to improve both your health and your child’s health is to eat meals together as a family. Family meals have been proven to improve both the physical and mental health of children. Children who eat dinner with their families are less likely to develop eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa. Moreover, children who eat with their parents have better communication with their parents and fewer behavioral problems.
Without knowing your adopted child’s family history, regular exercise is a good way to prevent childhood health issues. Exercise has a number of benefits including:
- Builds muscles
- Improves balance and flexibility
- Lowers blood pressure
- Strengthens the heart
- Speeds up reflexes
Moreover, exercise is fun and gives children a way to socialize with friends and family. Socialization is important to lifting mood and avoiding depression. Depression is rare in children but can have devastating consequences such as suicide and drug or alcohol abuse. Exercise releases endorphins which boost mood. Combined with spending time with friends or family, exercise can be a way to keep kids happy.
Stimulate Their Brains
In addition to physical health, children also need to maintain their mental development. External stimulation, such as playtime, reading books, and singing or talking can build neural connections that help the brain develop and grow. These activities may not guarantee that your adopted child will become a lawyer, but it will put your child on the path to success in school.
Brain development can be affected by a number of genetic and environmental factors. Stress, for example, is known to inhibit brain development. If your adopted child came from a stressful environment, you may need to work extra hard to help your child develop a healthy brain.
Watch for developmental milestones like crawling, talking, and walking to get a feel for how well your adopted child’s brain is developing. If you have concerns about your child’s development, your child can catch up with early intervention. Neuroplasticity in children’s brains allows them to rewire themselves with ease to pick up new skills and new concepts.
Childhood accidents are a major cause of childhood health issues. Children are physically active. They are also prone to physical injuries and these injuries can have lifelong consequences. For example, it only takes one spill on a bicycle without a helmet to cause permanent brain damage. Likewise, a car accident without a car seat can leave a child with long-lasting or even permanent physical injuries requiring physical therapy for the rest of their life.
According to surveys, the most common childhood accidents are:
- Falls: These include falls from heights, like trees or even bicycles, as well as slip-and-falls. Making sure that children play safely (including using helmets when riding skateboards, bicycles, and scooters) and that your home has anti-slip mats in the bathtub and shower can reduce the likelihood of falls and their effects when they do happen.
- Burns: Burns are not just the result of playing with matches or fireworks. Burns can happen due to kitchen accidents or in the bathroom due to hot water. Making sure that hot pots and pans are out of reach and reducing the temperature setting on your water heater can reduce the risk of burns.
- Choking: Choking hazards include anything that can fit into a child’s mouth. Make sure you keep small objects out of reach of your child and learn the Heimlich maneuver just in case your child every tries to swallow something that the child should not.
- Suffocation: Suffocation is different from choking. Suffocation happens when a child runs out of air due to being pinned underneath something or trapped inside something. Do not store old refrigerators or freezers with their doors attached and clean up the junk that might trap a child if it falls.
- Poisoning: Keep poisons, like cleaning products and medicines, out of the reach of children. Keep the poison control number handy just in case your child ingests something other than food.
- Drowning: Drowning can happen in even a few inches of water in a slip-and-fall accident. Keep pool gates closed and watch your child in the bathtub.
Listen to Your Child
Children have a built-in communication system even before they learn to talk. A child who is in pain or distress will cry. Listening to your child will often tell you that something is wrong and may even tell you exactly what is wrong.
For example, a child who cannot stop crying after a fall might not have just had a harmless bump. The child might have a broken bone or dislocated joint that requires an orthopedic surgeon or an emergency room visit to diagnose.
Childhood health issues can come in many different ways. Become attuned to your child’s way of communicating so you can detect when something is amiss. A happy child might become sullen when the child is in physical or emotional distress. Talk to the child and listen to the child’s answers to try to figure out how you can help.
Equally importantly, listen to your child’s siblings or friends. Children will sometimes confide in a peer rather than speaking to you directly. If your child’s friends or siblings tell you something is wrong, you should listen.
Keep an Eye on Behavioral Problems
Behavioral problems are common childhood health issues. Every child will test boundaries at some time to find out what is acceptable and what the child can get away with.
However, chronic behavioral problems might be a sign of physical or mental childhood health issues. Sometimes this is as simple as unresolved pain, such as a chronic toothache, that puts the child in a sour mood and causes the child to act out. A visit to the dentist may rid the child of the chronic pain and improve the child’s mood and behavior.
Other times, behavioral problems might be a sign of mental illness. For example, an adopted child may have a history of mental illness in the child’s biological family. Some forms of mental illness, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression, have genetic links. Behavioral problems early in life might indicate mental illness.
In yet other cases, behavioral problems might just be a rebellious attitude. Trying to address the child’s needs early on might reduce the risk that childhood health issues spiral into lifelong anti-social behavior, drug or alcohol abuse, and alienation from the family.
Childhood health issues can be transient and merely be the result of an injury. However, some childhood health issues can escalate into much worse problems. Genetic diseases, mental illness, chronic behavioral problems, and negative habits can result in lifelong health issues. On the other hand, good habits like dental hygiene, exercise, good diet, and being careful can give your adopted child a long and healthy life.