Developmental Disabilities

Overview of Developmental Disabilities

Developmental disabilities are chronic conditions that are due to mental and/or physical impairments. Children with developmental disabilities often struggle with language, mobility, learning, self-care and independent living.

Examples of developmental disabilities include:

  • Mental retardation
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Down syndrome
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Rett syndrome
  • Degenerative birth defects
  • Metabolic disorders (such as hypothyroidism and phenylketonuria)
  • Sensory-related disabilities (issues with sight, sound and other sensory stimuli)

Developmental disabilities are typically identified early in infancy or childhood, but can also be discovered in adolescence. Roughly 17 percent of children have a developmental disability, with 2 percent struggling with a serious disability such as autism or mental retardation.

Causes of Developmental Disabilities

In most cases, experts do not know the cause of developmental disabilities. Some possible causes include:

  • Genetics
  • Complications during pregnancy or birth
  • Chromosomal abnormalities
  • Infectious diseases
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Severe head injury
  • Environmental exposure to lead or mercury

While some disabilities can be reversed, such as lead poisoning, others have no cure.

Symptoms of Developmental Disabilities

Developmental disabilities are characterized by a variety of physical, sensory, psychological, cognitive and speech impairments. Early detection makes it easier to correct a problem and provide the supports a child needs to meet their full potential.

Possible signs of a developmental disability include:

  • Lagging behind other children in gross or fine motor, language, social or thinking skills
  • Difficulty reading nonverbal cues
  • Difficulty self-soothing or expressing feelings
  • Hearing loss, sensitivity to noises and vision problems
  • Continued infant-like behavior
  • Lack of curiosity
  • Problems with sleep, attention or aggression
  • Difficulty controlling and coordinating movement
  • Problems with posture, balance or coordination
  • Falling behind in school

Treatment of Developmental Disabilities

Treatment for developmental disabilities begins with proper testing and diagnosis. Once a family understands their child’s needs, recommendations can be made for special education services and specialized treatment programs. Depending on the child’s specific challenges, treatment options may include:

  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Experiential therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Life and social skills training
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Medication
  • Surgery
  • Special diets

The primary goal of treatment is to help the child develop to their fullest potential. Summer camps for children with disabilities offer skills training in a kid-friendly summer camp environment. In addition to developing social skills and working with a wide range of specialists, children and teens with developmental disabilities have the same opportunities for summer fun as their peers.