Monday, March 14, 2016

Developmental Disabilities: What You Should Know

March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, so proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987.  This is the month in which advocates across the U.S. really focus their efforts to build awareness and acceptance in their communities. One important aspect of raising awareness is educating our fellow citizens.  Let’s first talk about what developmental disabilities are.

            The Centers for Disease Control defines Developmental Disabilities as “a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas.”

A complex mix of factors are thought to be the cause of developmental disabilities; genetics, parental health and behaviors during pregnancy, complications during birth, infections the mother might have during pregnancy or the baby might have very early in life, and exposure of the mother or child to high levels of environmental toxins.  For the most part, the cause or causes of developmental disabilities is unknown.

            One criterion for determining developmental disability is found in the Americans With Disabilities Act: “Results in substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following areas of major life activity:
(i) Self-care;
(ii) Receptive and expressive language;
(iii) Learning;
(iv) Mobility;
(v) Self-direction;
(vi) Capacity for independent living; and
(vii) Economic self-sufficiency.”

            The CDC estimates 1 in 6 American children have one or more developmental disabilities or other developmental delays.According to the U.S. Census Bureau in a 2010 report, 1 in 5 Americans have a disability.

            The most common conditions which fall under the developmental disabilities designation are:

            Intellectual Disabilities – formerly known as mental retardation,                             intellectual disabilities (ID) limit a person’s ability to learn and function at levels typical for      their chronological age.  The disability is diagnosed in three categories: mild,            moderate, or severe.

            Autism – Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a group of highly variable     developmental disabilities which creates social, emotional, and behavioral   challenges. Persons with Autism are usually sensitive to sensory stimulation and can be affected by light, sound, and touch.

            Cerebral Palsy – Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a group of disorders which affect a         person’s movement, balance, and posture. Persons with cerebral palsy often also have intellectual disability, seizures, or problems with speech, hearing, or vision.

            Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome) – Down Syndrome occurs when a child inherits extra genetic material during conception.  This extra chromosome causes delays in mental and physical development. The physical appearance of persons with Down Syndrome varies by individual as does associated medical conditions.

            Spina Bifida (cleft spine) is a condition in which the development of the brain,   spine, or protective covering around them is incomplete. Complications associated with Spina Bifida vary from minor physical problems with minimal impairment to severe physical and mental disabilities.

            ADHD - The Centers for Disease Control also list ADHD as a developmental        disability; though not everyone agrees with this designation.  Persons with ADHD      (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) have a difficult time paying attention,             controlling impulsive behaviors, and/or being overly active.  Although there is no cure,   ADHD can be managed with medication and behavior therapy.

             Understanding developmental disabilities (DD) is the first step in accepting and integrating persons with DD into our communities.  Here are some ways you can support persons with developmental disabilities:

            1.         Take the time to educate yourself and others about the needs of people with developmental disabilities in Wyoming.  Learn about the issues facing Persons with DD in Wyoming, talk to family members, community program providers, or other advocates such as Friends of WLRC (

            2.         Make sure that your words and actions are respectful of those with developmental disabilities.  Have conversations with your family and friends about the harmful impact of using derogatory language towards people with DD.

            3.         Contact your legislators and congressional delegates.  Let them know you are concerned about continuing publicly funded services in the face of budget cuts and you expect them to enact public policy to assist people with disabilities.

            4.         Take the time to get to know someone with developmental disabilities.  Your understanding and perspective will be positively changed.

            5.         Support businesses that employ people with developmental disabilities and make sure they know you noticed.

            6.         Conduct community-based activities such as campaigns in your school or business.

            7.         Write a blog post about someone you know with a developmental disability and explain how they’ve inspired you.

            8.         “Like” the Friends of Wyoming Life Resource Center’s Facebook page and post this as your Facebook status: I support and celebrate people with developmental disabilities and you should too!



1.         Centers for Disease Control - Definition 

2.         Centers for Disease Control – Causes  

3          Florida Developmental Disabilities Council – Federal Definition      

4.         U.S. Census Bureau – 2010 Report

5.         Centers for Disease Control – Specific Conditions


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