Biological Factors Affecting Child Development

Biological Factors Affecting Child Development
Biological factors can affect a child's development.

Early child development is influenced by a wide variety of biological and environmental factors, both in positive ways that can enhance a child’s development and in negative ways that can compromise developmental outcomes. 

There are many factors that affect a child’s development that can be grouped into three main areas:

  • Biological factors.
  • Environmental factors.
  • Social and Emotional factors.

Biological Factors

During the prenatal period, there are many biological factors that can affect a child’s development. Research conducted at Rutgers University demonstrated how prenatal factors affect linguistic development and how postnatal factors are key components contributing to a child’s cognitive development.  Gross motor development is widely considered to be the result of innate, biological factors, with postnatal factors contributing to a lesser extent.


Proper nutrition becomes a vital factor in a child’s overall development. Prior to birth, a mother’s diet and overall health play a role in a child’s development. Folic acid intake of 400 micrograms (mcg) daily for three months prior to conception and during early pregnancy significantly decreases the risk of certain birth defects of a baby’s brain (anencephaly) and spine (spina bifida). 

A child’s physical body has distinctive reproductive organs and become further differentiated as special sex hormones are produced that play a role in gender differences.

Boys typically produce more androgens (male sex hormones), while females produce estrogens (female sex hormones). Scientists have studied the affect of excess amounts of sex hormones on a child’s behavior. They have found that boys with higher than normal androgen levels play and behave similar to their male peers with normal androgen levels.

However, girls with high androgen levels typically exhibit more gender-stereotypic male traits than do girls who have normal androgen levels.    


Most people possess 23 pairs of chromosomes in their cells (with the exception of special reproductive cells called gametes). The first 22 pairs are called autosomes, which are the same in boys and girls. Therefore, males and females share most of the same set of genes. However, the 23rd pair of chromosomes is what determines the gender of an individual. Boys typically have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome while girls have two X chromosomes. Hence, gender differences at the biological level are found on the Y chromosome.

Gender plays a factor in cognitive maturation in that boys tend to develop and learn differently than girls. Research suggests that boys have lower levels of school readiness than girls. Other determinant factors include looking at gender stereotyping and how society views men and women from various cultures and backgrounds.


The first three years of a child’s life is a period of tremendous growth and development. Many scientists believe that the first three years have a major impact on a child’s progress and success later in life. It is characterized by rapid development, particularly of the brain where connections between brain cells (neurons) are being made and provide the necessary building blocks for future growth and development. In order for children with disabilities to be able to best learn, become resourceful, and independent-minded, it is important to devote attention to early childhood development.

Author Byline: Dr. Douglas Haddad is an author, nutritionist, and middle school teacher in Connecticut who is a regular contributing writer to Parenting Special Needs magazine in the “Ask the Professional: Dr. Doug” section. For more information on empowering your kids and assisting in their maturation, decision-making, overall development and well-being, visit Dr. Doug’s official website.


1. Folic Acid & Birth Defects. (2014). Retrieved from

2. Early childhood development: a powerful equalizer. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2007. Retrieved from

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