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What are Developmental Disabilities?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define developmental disabilities (DD) as a "group of conditions due to impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. These conditions begun ruding the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person's lifetime. About one in six children in the US have one or more developmental disabilities or other developmental delays." DD occur across all racial, ethnic, education, and socioeconomic backgrounds and are identified before a person reaches the age of 22.

DD can begin anytime during the developmental period and most begin before a baby is born. However, some can happen after a child is born due to injury, infection, or other factores. Many DD are thought to be caused by a complex mix of factors that include genetics, parental health and behaviors during pregnancy, complications during birth, infections the baby might have early in life, and/or exposure to high levels of environmental toxins. For the majority of DD we do not know the cuase; for some DD, such as fetal alcohol syndrome (which is caused by consuming alcohol during pregnancy), we do know the cause.

Often, we see intellectual and developmental disabilities grouped together along with learning disabilities. Learning disabilities (LD) affect how the brain receives, processes, stores, responds to, and communicates information. They are not the same as intellectual or developmental disabilities, sensory disabilities, or autism spectrum disorders. LDs include dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and dyspraxia. Intellectual disabilities may start before the age of 18 and affect intellectual functioning or intelligence and adaptive behavior. Please visit our blog post to learn more about intellectual disabilities. The term developmental disability isa broader term that can be intellectual, physical, or both. It includes autism spectrum disorders, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, developmental delay, and other disorders.

For more information or if you are looking for resources, please visit our brochure on DD, run a search in REHABDATA on DD, run a search in the NIDILRR Program Database for any NIDILRR projects that are researching DD, or contact one of our information specialists by calling 800/346-2742, emailing naricinfo@heitechservices.com, submit an information request, or using our chat service.