Developmental Disabilities

Facts about Developmental Disabilities

     According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in learning, intellect, language, physical ability or behavioral maturity. The developmental disabilities 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 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 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 help improve the child’s chances of developing skills more quickly.  One in six children ages 3-17 has one or more developmental disabilities.

Developmental disabilities may delay a child's ability to speak, achieve developmental milestones, or progress with social interactions at the same rate as others her same age.
Developmental disabilities may delay a child’s ability to speak, achieve developmental milestones, or progress with social interactions at the same rate as others her same age.
Parks are beginning to add recreation equipment for mobility challenged children with developmental disabilities.
Parks are beginning to add recreation equipment for mobility challenged children. with developmental disabilities.

Developmental Disabilities with Muscle Weakness

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. 

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.
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.

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.

Children learn to speak by mimicking sounds. With developmental disabilities such as Downs Syndrome where the tongue's ability to move is impaired, learning speech is more difficult.
Children learn to speak by mimicking sounds. With developmental disabilities such as Downs Syndrome where the tongue’s ability to move is impaired, learning speech is more difficult.

language and Speech Disorders in Children

Children Mimic Speech 

     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

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)

intellectual Disabilities

Occur in the Brain up to Age Eighteen

     An injury, disease, or problem in the brain occurring before birth or after birth up to eighteen usually causes intellectual disabilities. Individuals with intellectual disabilities struggle when trying to learn new things or communicate their thoughts or needs. 

Broad Spectrum of Disabilities

    Just as communication and learning occur in various ways, the spectrum of intellectual disabilities is broad. If you meet one person with an intellectual disability, the chances are that his needs and challenges will not be the same as those you encounter in the next person you meet or the next.  Each person is unique.

The Severity Depends on Many Factors Other Than Label

     The severity of an intellectual disability (i.e., the degree of significant difficulties) depends on many factors other than the label of their diagnosis. As with many conditions, when dealing with an intellectual disability, it’s important not to make assumptions about what they can or cannot do or how best to meet their needs.

Age Acquired Influences Outcome

     Future struggles and challenges are influenced by how a person acquires the disability.  The earlier an injury or illness occurs, the more difficulty the child has in keeping pace with growth and development targets established for children in his age group. The same is true if a large area of the brain becomes damaged through illness or injury.

Warning Signs

     Parents should consult with their child’s pediatrician if they believe any of the following warning signs describe their child’s learning, development, or communication behaviors.

  • Sitting, crawling, or walking later than other children.
  • Learning to talk later or having trouble speaking
  • Finding it difficult to remember things
  • Struggling to understand social rules
  • Having trouble seeing the results of their actions
  • Trouble with problem-solving

Learning Disorders

Difficulty in One Area of Learning

     Learning Disorders fall under intellectual disabilities as a subgroup. Having a learning disorder means that a child has difficulty in one or more areas of learning. The learning limitation, however, has no impact on overall intelligence or motivation to learn. Examples of common learning disorders include:

  • Dyslexia – difficulty with reading
  • Dyscalculia – difficulty with math
  • Dysgraphia – difficulty with writing
Acting Out in School Covers Embarrassment

     Unfortunately, when children act out in school to cover up their embarrassment over not performing well academically, teachers may see their behavior rather than their learning disability. The children feel frustrated that they cannot master a subject despite trying hard. The stigma of being different can lead to emotional struggles, feelings of helplessness, depression, and self-esteem issues as they mature if not addressed in early childhood.

May Present as Emotional or Behavioral Disorders

     Learning disorders can also be present with emotional or behavioral disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or anxiety. The combination of problems can make it particularly hard for a child to succeed in school.

Symptoms to Watch

     Adults who oversee children who have trouble academically or develop behavioral problems after starting school should look for the following symptoms of learning disorders as a possible reason for the behaviors. Some of the symptoms of learning disorders are

  • Difficulty telling right from left
  • Reversing letters, words, or numbers after first or second grade
  • Difficulties recognizing patterns or sorting items by size or shape
  • Difficulty understanding and following instructions or staying organized
  • Difficulty remembering what was just said or what was just read
  • Lacking coordination when moving around
  • Difficulties doing tasks with the hands, like writing, cutting, or drawing
  • Difficulty understanding the concept of time.
Special Education

     Children with learning disorders often need extra help and instruction that are specialized for them. Having a learning disorder can qualify a child for special education services in school. Schools usually do their own testing for learning disorders to see if a child needs intervention. An evaluation by a healthcare professional is needed if there are other concerns about the child’s behavior or emotions. Parents, healthcare providers, and the school can work together to find the right referrals and treatment.

Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act

     Children with specific learning disabilities are eligible for special education services or accommodations at school under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA)  and an anti-discrimination law known as Section 504.