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This is an abnormality of development, the subjects of which bear with them into adult life the physical characters of childhood and usually some of the mental characteristics as well. Though infantilism has much in common with cretinism (q.v.), dwarfism (whether rickety or achondroplasiac), and some types of imbecility, such as mongolism, the term is better reserved for special instances of arrested physical and mental development of different origin from the foregoing.
The arrest of growth may be due to one or more of several causes, may occur at any age of childhood, and may or may not prove amenable to treatment. While grow th and development are inherent functions of the young tissues, this primitive "urge" may be adversely affected by many of the circumstances that influence the growing animal. Such influences include the provision and correct assimilation of necessary food substances, the subtle action of vitamins, the harmonious interaction of the ductless glands, and adequate exposure to the energy-producing rays of sun light. When the condition of infantilism arises, a failure of one or other of these agencies can be blamed; the hope of cure lies in the detection of the harmful factor.
Thyroid infantilism is one of the most common: its features are not those of gross physical and mental aberration sach as are familiar in cases of cretinism and myxoedema; rather are they a mere uniform absence of growth associated often, but not always, with a retardation of mental development due to impairment of thyroid activity. The typical "infantile" preserves, after the teens are passed, the physical stature and conformation of a young child in whom the secodary sexual characters have never appeared.
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Renal infantilism is due to the onset of chronic kidney disease in childhood; its victims are stunted, physically and mentally, their skin is harsh and dry, they are delicate and liable to succumb early to any infection.
Intestinal or panereatic infantilism is due to diseased conditions of the bowel and of the digestive glands that interfere seriously with the adequate absorption of food; it is seen in quite young children of all classes and constitutes a very difficult problem in management. If appropriatc measures are adopted early this form of infantilism is curable.
Lack of developmentof the testicles or ovaries may also bring about physical or mental infantilism or even both. The term infantilism is used by sexologists to refer to persons who, on account of organic deficiency of the sexual organs, are unable to carry out coitus or are unable to fertilise (male) or to be fertilised (female). They also use this term to describe that sexual abnormality in which sexual desire, instead of being directed towards mature persons, is directed towards children. This distressing and for the community dangerous, abnormality may cause grave psychological harm to the child who is sub,jected to it. Persons suffering from this abnormality should be put under the care of a competent medical sexologist. A still further type of sexual infantilism is found in individuals who are only attracted by senile or senescent persons. This type is exemplified by some of the young men who marry old women, or vice versa, though of course some such marriages are due to other factors such as money or fame.