About one in six, or 17 percent, of all children born in the United States has a developmental disability. This is a term for a broad range of conditions that generally begin during pregnancy or the developmental period, inhibit daily functioning, and last a person's lifetime. These conditions can be challenging, but with strong support systems, those with them can lead active, healthy lives.
Types of Developmental Disabilities
The CDC defines developmental disabilities as conditions that cause impairments in the physical, learning, behavior, or language areas. There's a broad spectrum of these disabilities, and they can include:
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Cerebral Palsy
- Down Syndrome: an extra chromosome that causes developmental delays and particular physical features.
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders
- Fragile X Syndrome: a genetic disorder that can lead to developmental delays, caused by changes to the Fragile X Mental Retardation 1 (FMR1) gene.
- Hearing Loss
- Intellectual Disability
- Kernicterus: brain damage in infants resulting from jaundice. It can cause intellectual disabilities, hearing loss, and athetoid cerebral palsy.
- Language and Speech Disorders
- Learning Disorders
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Tourette Syndrome
- Vision Impairment
Causes and Risk Factors
What determines whether a child has a developmental disability? There are many factors, and while most start while during fetal development, they can also happen after a child is born. These factors can include:
- Parental health and behavior: including drinking alcohol and smoking during pregnancy.
- Complications during birth.
- Infections during pregnancy or early in the child's life.
- Exposure to environmental toxins, such as lead.
Some developmental disabilities have specific, identifiable causes, but most don't, and appear to be the result of a combination of factors. Some of the most common factors are low birth weight, premature birth, multiple birth, and infections during pregnancy.
Complications of Developmental Disabilities
Although many people with developmental disabilities report good or excellent health, they're at greater risk for preventable health problems. They're also more likely than those without disabilities to report poorer overall health, trouble accessing adequate health care, smoking, and physical inactivity. Proper health care and health programs are vital for those with disabilities.
Certain disabilities can come with a number of secondary conditions. These can include:
- Mental health issues such as depression.
- Obesity or being overweight.
- Pressure sores or ulcers.
- Bowel or bladder problems.
Living Well with Developmental Disabilities
Those living with developmental disabilities may have a higher rate of secondary conditions, but with the right support systems and health programs being healthy is an achievable goal, and a full, active life is within reach.
Physical Activity: As with all adults, it's recommended that an adult with developmental disabilities get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity every week. If a person's disability prevents this, they should still get as much regular physical activity as possible, and should speak to their doctor about what activity level and program will suit their physical needs.
Proper Medical Care: Someone with a developmental disability may have difficulty finding health care that meets their needs. Advocating for your own health, or the health of a loved one with a disability, is crucial:
- Make sure you're comfortable with your doctors and other health care professionals.
- Know your body, and speak up regarding your needs and care level.
- Speak to a trusted medical professional about sexual health and reproductive concerns and options.
- Make sure medical facilities meet your accessibility needs.
- Keep thorough health records.
- Get everything in writing: the more information you have, the better care you're likely to receive.
- Bring a friend or family member to appointments.
Mental Health: It's not uncommon for those with developmental disabilities to suffer from mental health issues like depression, isolation, or low self-esteem. If you're dealing with mental health issues as a result of your disability, speak to a trusted medical professional about your options.
Preventing Abuse: People with disabilities are 4 to 10 times more likely to suffer abuse, violence, and neglect than those without disabilities. This is called "victimization," and it's most common in hospitals and homes. Children with disabilities are more than twice as likely to suffer victimization as children without, and people with disabilities have a 13 percent chance of suffering an attempted sexual assault, as opposed to a 5.7 percent chance among those without disabilities.
Victims usually know their abuser, and that person is usually someone prominent in their lives, whether it's a health care worker, intimate partner, or family member. It's important to be able to reach organizations that can help you: