Developmental disability is a broad term used to describe a range of conditions that affect physical and/or mental functioning. For a condition to be considered a developmental disability, the manifestations or symptoms of the condition must be present in childhood years and expected to be present for life.
Most developmental disabilities are present at birth and may be identified early in life, although some developmental conditions may not be recognized until after age three. Conditions that arise or are detected in adolescent or adult years are not considered developmental disabilities.
Common Developmental Disabilities
Examples of developmental disabilities include autism, behavior disorders, brain injury, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, and intellectual disability.
A number of things can cause a developmental disability, but all of them are related to the development of the brain and nervous system. In many cases, the direct cause is unknown. Sometimes healthy and typically functioning parents can have a child born with a developmental disability. There are many potential causes of developmental disabilities, including:
- Genetic or chromosome abnormalities.
- Prenatal exposure to substances. For example, drinking alcohol when pregnant can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
- Abuse and neglect
- Certain infections in pregnancy
- Preterm birth
Symptoms of Developmental Disabilities
Symptoms of developmental disability vary from person to person and the specific diagnosis.
However, the identification of a developmental disability often occurs when a parent notices that their child does not seem to be reaching developmental milestones. Children progressively develop skills related to how they:
Each developmental milestone tends to be reached by the time a child is a particular age. However, there is not necessarily cause for alarm if your child has not reached a particular milestone by the guideline age. All children develop at different rates.
Assessment of Developmental Disabilities
Some developmental disabilities can be detected early, through screening during pregnancy. Others may become evident later when children start school. Treatment plans for developmental disorders often involve a combination of medical support, skills training, therapy and other supports.