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Gaining Access to Support for your Child with Developmental Disabilties

Updated on December 31, 2014

What is a Developmental Disability

Facts about persons with developmental disabilities

Developmental disabilities are types of condition that cause an impairment in one of many different areas. These areas may be: physical or learning or language or behavior related. Typically these begin when your child is small, last a lifetime, and impact a person's ability to function.

Most developmental disabilities begin before a baby is born, but some can happen after birth because of injury, infection, or other factors.

Most developmental disabilities are thought to be caused by a complex mix of factors instead of just one issue. These factors include genetics; parental health or behaviors things like smoking, doing drugs or having unprotected sex during pregnancy; complications during birth like the umbilical cord wrapped around the baby's neck; infections the mother might have during pregnancy; or serious infections the baby might have very early in life; and exposure of the mother or child to high levels of environmental toxins, such as lead. Occasionally we know the cause, but most of the time, we don’t.

Top Developmental Disability Diagnoses

Mental & Behavioral
Those living with Community Support
Intellectual Disability 87%
Nonspecific Mood Disorder 40%
20% / 10%
Seizure Disorder 86%
Depression 36%
15% / 12%
Autism Spectrum Disorder 19%
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder 8%
8% / 2%
Cerebral Palsy 18%
Pychosis 7%
10% / 3%
Down Syndrome 17%
Bipolar Disorder 7%
15% / 4%

Living with a Developmental Disability

Just because a person has a developmental disability does not mean that they cannot live healthy lives. The goals of most organizations that provide services are to ensure that these persons can lead fulfilled lives with as much independence as possible. This is a great comfort to parents. Persons with developmental disabilities can work, can live independently or in a group home setting, and can participate in social and community activities.

Typically there are levels of care that is provided

Level 1 - Passive -Participant/Spectator - these individuals are exposed to social activities and opportunities to further develop their social skills

Level 2 - Minimal - Participant/Consumer - these individuals have established social circles and are continuing to develop their social skills

Level 3 - Full - Participant/Contributor - these individuals have social skills and established friendships in the community but need some support

Checking In

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Common Criteria to Receive Services for Developmental Disabilities

Many states have a definition of what developmental disabilitiy means. You should check with your state's department of public health and/or mental health for their definition to be sure. Usually though, the criteria is similar to this:

Must meet all of the following:

  • is manifested before the age of 21
  • continues or can be expected to continue indefinitely
  • is a substantial handicap for the person
  • is attributable to a condition like mental retardation, neurological condition, genetic condition that result in impairment of general intellectual functioning or adaptive behavior
  • If under 5 years of age, the person is at high risk similar to the risk of a child with mental retardation

So what is a substantial handicap?

  • A handicap of such severity that it corresponds to social, legal or economic constraints
  • Prohibits the individual from living independently without assistance, and
  • The person requires a specialized program of developmental services

Autism & Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network

Services to Promote Independence

It can be a bit daunting to locate services for a child with disabilities. First you should seek out counselor at the Department of Mental Health or Division for Rehabilitation Services for your area. You can also ask a social worker at your local hospital to be of assistance.

Online searches for independent living services for those with disabilities may also help. These types of programs help persons by:

  • promoting independence
  • assessing for and providing the appropriate level of supervision and service
  • assist with activities of daily living
  • encourage socialization, mobility, and communication
  • housing and transportation assistance
  • advocacy
  • peer support
  • education
  • outreach
  • employment opportunities and support


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