What is a developmental disability?

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Welcome to another day of Autism A to Z. Today I want to talk about developmental disabilities because that’s what autism is. So what is a developmental disability? We’ll talk about the general definition as well as talk about a few developmental disabilities in addition to autism. When it comes to autism specifically, usually the terminology is lifelong developmental disability. That is also the case with other developmental disabilities.

What is a developmental disability?

As defined by NIMH, a developmental disability is:

Developmental disabilities are severe, long-term problems. They may be physical, such as blindness. They may affect mental ability, such as learning disorders. Or the problem can be both physical and mental, such as Down syndrome. The problems are usually life-long, and can affect everyday living.

Often there is no cure, but treatment can help the symptoms. Treatments include physical, speech, and occupational therapy. Special education classes and psychological counseling can also help.

What causes a developmental disability?

In some cases, such as Down syndrome and Rett syndrome, a developmental disability is genetic. In other cases it may have been caused during pregnancy and sometimes it may be caused by premature birth.

What are some of the signs of a developmental disability?

Sometimes, such as with Down syndrome, it may be physical.

Other signs of a developmental disability include:

  • Sitting up, crawling, or walking later than other children of similar age
  • Learning to talk later or having difficulty speaking
  • Finding it hard to remember things
  • Having trouble understanding the rules of social behavior
  • Having difficulty “seeing” or understanding the outcomes of actions
  • Having trouble solving problems

Another indication of a developmental disability being present would be a delay in meeting developmental milestones.

How is a developmental disability diagnosed?

Sometimes you can diagnose a developmental disability in-utero. Other times it may take until after birth. Usually though, a developmental disability is diagnosed within the first three years of life.

What are some types of developmental disabilities?

  • Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Duchenne/Becker Muscular Dystrophy
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
  • Fragile X Syndrome
  • Hearing Loss
  • Hemochromatosis (Iron Overload)
  • Hemophilia
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Kernicterus
  • Paralysis
  • Sickle Cell Disease
  • Spina Bifida
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Thalassemia
  • Tourette Syndrome
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Vision Impairment
  • Von Willebrand Disease

Is there a cure for developmental disabilities?

In short- no. Research continues to be conducted to find causes and treatment options but there are no known cures for many of the developmental disabilities that have been discovered. Often an individual with a developmental disability will need lifelong treatment and support. In turn, it is also crucial for the family and loved ones to get support.

Having a child with a developmental disability is not always easy. But when the days do get difficult just remind yourself to keep going and look for the joy in every day. Don’t give up hope and don’t give up on your child. They might just surprise you.


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Content Creator at Kori at Home
Kori is an autistic mom who also happens to have ADHD and Anxiety. She is currently located in Albany, NY where she is raising a neurodivergent family. Her older daughter is non-speaking autistic (and also has ADHD and Anxiety) and her youngest daughter is HSP/Gifted. As an empath, HSP, and highly intuitive individual, Kori brings her own life experiences as an autistic woman combined with her adventures in momming to bring you the day-to-day of her life at home. Kori provides life coaching services for neurodivergent women (and those who identify as women) as well as Oracle card reading, Tarot card readings, and energy healing.
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