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Developmental Disabilities - Introduction to Developmental Disabilities

A developmental disability is a chronic disability of a person that:
  • Is attributable to a mental or physical impairment or combination of impairments; is manifested before the person attains age 22
  • Is likely to continue indefinitely
  • Results in substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following areas of major life activity- self care, receptive and expressive language, learning, mobility, self-direction, capacity for independent living, economic self-sufficiency
  • Reflects the person's need for a combination and sequence of special interdisciplinary or generic care, treatment, or other services that are of lifelong or extended duration and are individually planned and coordinated.
(Source: The ARC website, retrieved February 2003. http://www.thearc.org/ga/mrdd.html Please scroll down the page.)

We estimate that the prevalence of developmental disability in the United States is approximately 1.5%, or 4.5 million persons.

As evidenced by the statistics above, developmental disabilities affect a large segment of our population. In addition, many more lives are touched by the incidence of developmental disabilities than may be reflected by the numbers reported. Family dynamics are often permanently altered when a child is born with a developmental disability. As these children grow into adults, their family connections grow, as do their contacts with society at large. Healthcare providers need to develop the knowledge and skills required to provide competent services to this often neglected segment of our communities.

Individuals born with developmental disabilities frequently encounter a lifetime of challenges. These challenges often include struggles for accessibility of services centered around education, habilitation, workplace accommodations, and healthcare. Developmental disabilities may impose various alterations in function; thus each individual will require a unique approach to care. A person with a developmental disability may experience difficulty with mobility, communication, coordination, growth (meeting milestones), cognition, learning, or seizure activity to varying degrees. The type and extent of support required depends on the particular person with the disability and the manner in which that person interacts with his or her environment. Healthcare professionals should certainly make efforts to accommodate and thus respect such individuals in the clinic setting.

For further reading on developmental disabilities, and healthcare issues for persons with developmental disabilities, see: "Serving Persons Who Have Developmental Disabilities in the Healthcare Setting: Resources for Medical Student Training in Developmental Disability." Matheny Institute for Research in Developmental Disabilities. Available online at www.disabilityhealth.org