Seven things to know about developmental disabilities
Here are some answers to seven common questions people have about developmental disabilities:
1. What is a developmental disability?
Developmental disabilities, or developmental disorders, are a group of conditions that affect language, movement, behavior, learning, or a combination of these. About 1 in 6 children (17%) in the United States between ages 3 and 17 have at least one diagnosed developmental disability. Developmental disabilities begin before age 22, are usually lifelong, and can impact everyday life.
2. What are the different types of developmental disabilities?
There are many different developmental disabilities, including:
- Attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- Cerebral palsy (CP)
- Down syndrome
- Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD)
- Hearing loss
- Intellectual disability
- Vision loss or blindness
- Other developmental delays
3. What causes developmental disabilities?
Developmental disabilities have a variety of causes. They usually start before birth, but injury, infection, or other factors can cause disabilities to occur later. And sometimes the cause isn't known.
Here are some possible causes of developmental disabilities:
- Difficult or premature birth
- Exposure to drugs or alcohol during pregnancy
- Infection during pregnancy
- Infection in the infant early in life
- Toxins in the environment, like lead, before or after birth
4. Are developmental disabilities the same thing as developmental delays?
Developmental delays and developmental disabilities are related but not the same. A developmental delay is when a child does not meet one or more developmental milestones (things a child can typically do by a certain age). All children with developmental disabilities will have developmental delays. And delays may be a sign of a developmental disability. But many children with delays will not have a lifelong disability.
5. What developmental milestones should I look for in my child?
There are four categories of developmental milestones:
- Cognitive (thinking, problem-solving, and learning)
There is a different set of milestones for every stage of childhood, from birth to age five. Keeping track of these milestones is important for making sure your child is growing and developing well.
What can be done for a child with a developmental disability?
There are many services that can help children with developmental disabilities learn, succeed, and stay healthy.
A healthcare provider is often the first person to offer information and support. They will examine your child and look for developmental delays during every visit. If they have concerns, they may do more assessments or send your child to a specialist for other services. As a parent, you are your child's greatest advocate. Be sure to discuss any concerns you have regarding your child's development with a pediatrician.
Many children with developmental disabilities benefit from therapy services. These services might happen in a clinic, at home, or at school. Children may see a physical therapist (PT), occupational therapist (OT), or speech-language pathologist (SLP).
Children from birth through age 3 with developmental delays or disabilities and their families can get help through early intervention services. Public schools may provide services for children aged 3 or older with developmental disabilities. Finding a provider who specializes in pediatric therapy is always a good move. These professionals are fully trained and experienced in identifying and helping children with developmental issues.
Having a developmental disability is not the same as having a mental illness. But people with disabilities are at a higher risk for experiencing mental health concerns, so discussing concerns with your healthcare provider or contacting mental health services may be a good idea.
7. What should I do if I think my child may have a developmental disability?
Learning more about developmental milestones and how to keep your child healthy is an excellent first step. Track your child's developmental milestones to see where your child is struggling and tell your child's pediatrician what you see. It can be hard to know what to say, but pediatric specialists will understand and are the best way to get the support your child deserves.