Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. These conditions begin during the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.
Skills such as taking a first step, smiling for the first time, and waving “bye bye” are called developmental milestones. Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, behave, and move (for example, crawling and walking).
Children develop at their own pace, so it’s impossible to tell exactly when a child will learn a given skill. However, the developmental milestones give a general idea of the changes to expect as a child gets older.
Developmental Monitoring and Screening
A child’s growth and development are followed through a partnership between parents and health care professionals. At each well-child visit, the doctor looks for developmental delays or problems and talks with the parents about any concerns the parents might have. This is called developmental monitoring.
Any problems noticed during developmental monitoring should be followed up with developmental screening. Developmental screening is a short test to tell if a child is learning basic skills when he or she should, or if there are delays.
If a child has a developmental delay, it is important to get help as soon as possible. Early identification and intervention can have a significant impact on a child’s ability to learn new skills, as well as reduce the need for costly interventions over time.
Causes and Risk Factors
Developmental disabilities begin anytime during the developmental period and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime. Most developmental disabilities begin before a baby is born, but some can happen after birth because of injury, infection, or other factors.
Most developmental disabilities are thought to be caused by a complex mix of factors. These factors include genetics; parental health and behaviors (such as smoking and drinking)during pregnancy; complications during birth; infections the mother might have during pregnancy or the baby might have very early in life; and exposure of the mother or child to high
levels of environmental toxins, such as lead. For some developmental disabilities, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, which is caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy, we know the cause. But for most, we don’t.
Living with a Developmental Disability
Children and adults with disabilities need health care and health programs for the same reasons anyone else does—to stay well, active, and a part of the community.
Having a disability does not mean a person is not healthy or that he or she cannot be healthy. Being healthy means the same thing for all of us—getting and staying well so we can lead full, active lives. That includes having the tools and information to make healthy choices and knowing how to prevent illness. Some health conditions, such as asthma, gastrointestinal symptoms, eczema and skin allergies, and migraine headaches, have been found to be more common among children with developmental disabilities. Thus, it is especially important for children with developmental disabilities to see a health care provider regularly.
Facts about Developmental Disability. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/developmentaldisabilities/facts.html
Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Nervous System Disorders in Developing Countries. Neurological, Psychiatric, and Developmental Disorders: Meeting the Challenge in the Developing World. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US). (2001). 5, Developmental Disabilities. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK223473/