What Are Developmental Disabilities?

Developmental disabilities have certain qualities in common

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Developmental Disabilities: An Overview

Developmental disabilities include a complex group of disorders that cause physical impairments, intellectual disabilities, speech disorders, and medical conditions. Developmental disabilities are usually present and diagnosed at birth. Some developmental disorders, however, may not be easily identified until ages three to six.

Developmental disabilities may range from mild to severe.

Some of the more common developmental disabilities include:

Do Children "Grow Out Of" Developmental Disabilities?

Very often, doctors will refer to a child's developmental disabilities as "developmental delays." This euphemistic term can be very misleading. After all, a train that's delayed does finally arrive at the station -- and delayed gratification isn't the same thing as NO gratification!  

The fact is that the vast majority of developmental disabilities are genetic in origin. It is not possible to "grow out of" your genetics. Thus, children don't "grow out of" developmental disabilities. If you have heard stories of children with a particular developmental disability suddenly being "cured," be very skeptical.

Chances are, that child had a mild version of the disability and a great deal of therapy.  As a result, that particular child may be able to function at age level, at least for a period of time.

What Happens to Children with Developmental Disabilities When They Grow Up?

Children with developmental disabilities become adults with developmental disabilities.

Their level of functioning (and social, economic, and career success) will depend upon a number of factors:

  • Type of disability. Some developmental disabilities (such as spina bifida) make it possible for an adult to function well socially or at a job while requiring significant physical supports. Others, such as Down syndrome, may make it possible to function well socially -- but require some level of support in a work setting. 
  • Severity of the disability. An adult with a mild disability may be able to work around and/or build skills to the point where they can function independently or with relatively little support. 
  • Amount and quality of therapy they received as children. A child who receives intensive, appropriate therapies as a youngster is more likely to build skills and self-confidence -- thus boosting the likelihood that he will do well as an adult.
  • Personality. Every person with a developmental disability is different. Some adults with such disabilities feel "disabled," while others are determined to be as independent or successful as possible. These personal differences have a great deal to do with outcomes.
  • Social Network. An adult with a developmental disability may be quite isolated -- or may be included in a warm and loving family and/or community. Not surprisingly, it is easier to be relatively independent in a community of people who know you and are willing and able to help you to succeed.

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