What is a developmental disability?

Developmental Disability – What is it?

Developmental disability is a common diagnosis these days. One in six children, 15%, are currently being diagnosed with a disability or delay. Developmental disabilities occur among all socioeconomic groups and races.

But what exactly it is? It is a broad term encompassing many different diagnoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an 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.  Some examples of more common developmental disabilities include; ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Cerebral Palsy, intellectual disabilities and vision impairment.

There are four main types of developmental disorders: nervous system disabilities, sensory related disabilities, metabolic disabilities and degenerative disorders. Many different subsets of disabilities nest under these four main groups.

What is a developmental disability diagnosed as a nervous system disorders?

These are birth defects that affect the functioning of the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system, which can influence intelligence and learning. These conditions can also cause certain behavioral disorders, speech or language difficulties, convulsions, and movement disorders.  There are some relatively common nervous system disabilities that you have probably already heard of or possibly know someone who has been diagnosed with.

The first is Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDDs). This term describes a certain range of scores on an IQ (intelligence quotient) test. IDDs can result from a number of conditions. The most common conditions being Down syndrome and Fragile X syndrome. Children are born with these conditions.

Down syndrome occurs when there is an extra copy of chromosome 21. Down syndrome has a specific set of mental, medical and physical characteristics.

Fragile X mental retardation is caused by one specific gene that causes the body to produce low amounts or none of a certain protein. Without this important protein, the brain does not develop normally. Symptoms of Fragile X syndrome occur because the mutated gene cannot produce enough of a protein that is needed by the body’s cells, especially cells in the brain, to develop and function normally.

Another increasing common developmental disorder of the nervous system is Autism Spectrum Disorder. Currently 1 in 88 American children is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  This disorder is diagnosed on a spectrum, meaning people with this condition can have mild symptoms to severe symptoms ranging in the way it affects the patient. This range of issues that the developmental disorder can affect includes communication skills, social skills and intelligence.

What is a developmental disability known as a sensory-related disability?   

Sensory-related developmental disabilities are another type of developmental disorder. Think of this diagnosis as a birth defect that interferes with the normal function of a body’s ability to sense the world around it. Children with a sensory-related disability have problems using and processing sensory information like sights, smells, sounds, taste, and touch. Sensory-related disabilities, such as visual and hearing problems, are often associated with other developmental disabilities. Sensory-related disabilities can often be a part of complex birth defect patterns. For instance; children with Williams’s Syndrome have trouble seeing spatial relationships between objects around them. Children with Fragile X syndrome can often be sensitive to loud sounds.

What is a developmental disability known as metabolic disorders?

This group of functional birth defects affects a person’s metabolism, which is the way the body builds up, breaks down, and otherwise processes the materials it needs to function. One example of more commonly known metabolic disorders is Phenylketonuria (PKU). This is a condition in which a problem with a specific enzyme, a protein that speeds up certain chemical reactions, causes IDDs. Another disorder is hypothyroidism, a hormonal condition that if left untreated in an infant can cause IDDs.

What is a developmental disability known as degenerative disorders?

Some infants born with degenerative disorders appear normal at birth, but then lose abilities or functions due to this disorder. Many times the defect is usually not detected until the person grows and ages and starts to show signs of loss of function. Degenerative disorders can cause physical, mental, and sensory problems, depending on the specific defect.  For example, Rett syndrome is a specific example of a degenerative birth defect. This disorder, which usually affects girls, is most often caused by a specific genetic abnormality.

Now that you have a brief overview of what is a developmental disorder here are some common treatments used for these disorders.

Many of these developmental disabilities do not have a cure but symptoms can be improved with pediatric therapy sessions from highly trained therapist like the ones that work at THERAPY 2000.

Children with Down syndrome, the nervous system disorder, can often benefit from speech therapy, occupational therapy, and exercises for gross and fine motor skills. They might also be helped by special education program and support groups like Best Buddies.  Surgery can also help medical symptoms, like correct heart defects that are often common in this diagnosis. People with Fragile X syndrome can get help to reduce or eliminate some of the common learning, physical, social and emotional, speech and language, and sensory problems. As is the case with many developmental disorders, the sooner those with Fragile X get help, the more they can learn and the better their outcomes.

There are a variety of treatment options to help with the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders.  These may include behavioral, occupational, physical, and speech-language therapy.  In addition, educational specialists can help guide the child’s school experiences.

Girls with Rett syndrome can be treated for some of the problems associated with the condition. Treatment works on slowing the loss of abilities, improving movement, and encouraging communication skills. Physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech-language therapists may all be part of the prescription. Medication or surgery is also effective for treating some of the symptoms of Rett syndrome.

Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, treatment includes daily oral hormone treatment.  The most effective treatment for PKU is a special diet that carefully limits the protein phenylalanine (Phe).  People with PKU who are on this diet from birth or shortly thereafter develop normally and usually have no symptoms of PKU.

How to know if your child has a developmental disability?

Skills such as taking a first step, smiling for the first time, and waving “bye-bye” are called developmental milestones. Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, behave, and move (for example, crawling and walking).

It is important that you keep watch to see if your child is meeting common developmental milestones. All children develop at their own unique pace, but these milestones give a general idea of what to expect from your child.

If your child is not meeting the milestones for his/her age it could be an indication that your child has a delay.  If you do see a red flag or are simply concerned please talk with your child’s doctor or health care provider and share your concerns. It is best not to wait as with most medical conditions the sooner treatment begins the better the outcome.

Concerned about your child reaching the appropriate milestones for his/her age? Please download our Developmental Milestones chart here. Check Therapy for Developmental Disabilities in Texas.


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