Developmental and Learning Disorders

What are Developmental Disabilities?

     According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, developmental disabilities are a “group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language or behavior areas.” They begin in early childhood during the development phase of life and continue throughout the lifespan. Children with developmental disabilities do not reach certain developmental milestones as quickly or sometimes ever as compared to other children their same age. 


     Developmental disabilities can start at any point during childhood, including before or immediately after birth. The cause of most seems to be a mixture of factors including genetics, parental health and habits during pregnancy, complications during birth, environmental exposures, infections during pregnancy or after birth, or exposure to drinking alcohol during pregnancy.  However, for many the cause is not known. It just happens. Early detection and monitoring with intervention helps improve the child’s chances of developing skills more quickly.  One in six children ages 3-17 have one or more developmental disabilities.

Child with developmental disability playing with blocks

language and Speech Disorders in Children

Speech Is Learned by Mimicking 

     Children learn language by mimicking what they hear. They pick up language skills best during their early childhood years before age five when their brains grow the most. Parents can help their children learn language skills by

  • Mimicking the baby’s first sounds and gestures back to it helps the baby learn how to develop speech.
  • Repeating what a toddler says correctly helps him learn how to pronounce words.
  • Talk to the child about what he sees.
  • Ask questions and listen to his answers to encourage conversations.
  • Read books and tell stories, sing songs, and share rhymes.
American Sign Language

     If you know any American Sign Language (ASL), consider teaching your child how to speak that language as well.  Young children also quickly pick up on the use of hand gestures to communicate their wants and needs. ASL has helped children and adults of all ages who have difficultly with verbal expression develop the ability to communicate independently. 


Factors Affecting Speech

     Communication difficulties related to speech may exist due to several different factors, among them, being:

     The inability to understand what others say (receptive language) could be due to

    • Not hearing the words (hearing loss).
    • Not understanding the meaning of the words.

     Difficulty using the language to communicate thoughts and ideas (expressive language) could be due to

    • Not knowing the words to use.
    • Not knowing how to put words together.
    • Knowing the words to use but not being able to express them.

     Speech disorders are related to the malfunction of one or more of the body’s organs needed to produce sound or speech.

    • Difficulty with forming specific words or sounds correctly.
    • Difficulty with making words or sentences flow smoothly, like stuttering or stammering.

     Language delay – the ability to understand and speak develops more slowly than is typical.

     Language disorders are related to how the speech producing orders function.

    • Aphasia (difficulty understanding or speaking parts of language due to a brain injury or how the brain works).
    • Auditory processing disorder (difficulty understanding the meaning of the sounds that the ear sends to the brain)

Child with muscular dystrophy swinging

intellectual Disabilities

Cerebral Palsy

Movement, Balance, Posture     

     Cerebral Palsy (Cerebral=brain, Palsy=muscle weakness) is a term used to describe several childhood motor disabilities that affect movement, balance, and posture. Symptoms vary among those who have CP and may range from mild to severe depending on the degree of abnormal brain development or damage occurring during utero or birth. While the condition does not progress over time, the symptoms may change as the individual grows and develops.


Associated Conditions

      In addition to challenges posed by muscle weakness related to movement and posture, associated conditions such as

  • intellectual disabilities,
  • seizures,
  • vision, hearing, or speech impairments,
  • changes in the spine or
  • joint problems may develop.
Treatment Options

     While there is no cure for CP, treatment can improve symptoms and help families acquire assistive devices to make getting around easier. Therapies to help with speech and to strengthen muscles help the child maintain as much independence as possible.

Intervention Services

     Both early intervention and school-aged services are available through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Part C of IDEA deals with early intervention services (birth through 36 months of age), while Part B applies to services for school-aged children (3 through 21 years of age).

Failure to Reach Milestones

      If you think your child is not meeting movement milestones or might have CP, contact your doctor or nurse and share your concerns.

How to Get an Evaluation

     If you or your doctor is still concerned, ask for a referral to a specialist who can do a more in-depth evaluation of your child and assist in making a diagnosis.


     At the same time, call your state’s public early childhood system to request a free evaluation (sometimes called a Child Find evaluation) to determine if your child qualifies for intervention services. You do not need to wait for a doctor’s referral or a medical diagnosis to make this call.


    Where to call for a free evaluation from the state depends on your child’s age:

  • If your child is not yet three years old, contact your local early intervention system.
    You can find the right contact information for your state by calling the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA) at 919-962-2001 or visiting the  Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center
  • If your child is three years of age or older, contact your local public school system.


Even if your child is not yet old enough for kindergarten or enrolled in a public school, call your local elementary school or board of education and ask to speak with someone who can help you have your child evaluated. If you’re unsure who to contact, you can call the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA) at 919-962-2001 or visit  Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center

child with cerebral palsy

Muscular dystrophies

What are Muscular Dystrophies?

     Muscular dystrophies are a group of muscle diseases caused by mutations in a person’s genes. Over time, muscle weakness decreases mobility, making everyday tasks difficult. There are many kinds of muscular dystrophy, each affecting specific muscle groups, with signs and symptoms appearing at different ages, and varying in severity.

Family History

     Muscular Dystrophy (MD) can run in families, or a person can be the first in their family to have muscular dystrophy. There may be several different genetic types within each kind of muscular dystrophy, and people with the same kind of muscular dystrophy may experience different symptoms.

MD Is Rare

     Muscular dystrophies are rare, with little data on how many people are affected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working to estimate the number of people with each major kind of muscular dystrophy in the United States.

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