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 begin during 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, educational, 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 factors. 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 cause; 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, respond 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 is a broader term that can be intellectual, physical, or both. It includes autism spectrum disorders, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, developmental delay, and other disorders.

We ran a search on the NIDRR Program Database to see what projects are doing research related to DD. The following NIDRR projects are just a sample:

  • Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Developmental Disabilities and Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Project Number: H133B130007.
  • Determining the Efficacy of the Self-Determined Career Development Model of Instruction to Improve Employment Outcomes for Adults with Developmental Disabilities at the University of Missouri. Project Number: H133G120071.
  • Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Community Living. Project Number: H133B110006.
  • Other currently-funded NIDRR projects focusing on developmental disabilities.

We also ran a search in REHABDATA and found over 1000 articles produced by NIDRR grantees in our collection. Here is a sample:

  • The continuum of disability over the lifespan: The convergence of aging with disability and aging into disability. NARIC Accession Number: J67636.
  • Social inclusion and community participation of individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities. NARIC Accession Number: J67765.
  • Support for AAC use in preschool, and growth in language skills, for young children with developmental disabilities. NARIC Accession Number: J67919.

For more information or if you are looking for resources, please visit our brochure on developmental disabilities.

About mpgarcia

I'm the Bilingual Information/Media Specialist at NARIC.
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