Home Special Needs 7 Types of Developmental Disabilities and How to Manage Them

7 Types of Developmental Disabilities and How to Manage Them

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Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions that affect the way a person grows and develops. These are caused by problems in the genes, environment, or both. They can happen at any time during a child’s development and may have no known cause.

Developmental disabilities have become more common recently. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1 in 6 or 17% of US children between 3 and 17 years have at least one form of developmental disability.

Here are some common types of developmental disabilities.


Autism is a complex disability of brain development. Autism spectrum disabilities (ASDs) are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviours.

People with ASDs can be highly intelligent. A study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics shows the same. It states that 59.1% of participants with autism had an average or higher IQ. However, they have difficulty coping with change, making friends, establishing relationships, and learning new skills.

There are many types of autism, ranging from mild Asperger’s syndrome to severe forms, including mental retardation or a profound inability to speak or use language. Autistic children may have difficulty communicating and interacting with others.

They may seem socially inept or reserved due to their lack of understanding of social cues or rules for conversation. Speech patterns may be delayed or stilted, and eye contact may be minimal. Many autistic children prefer playing alone rather than engaging in group activities or sharing experiences with others.

Intellectual disability

Intellectual disability is a condition that affects a person’s ability to learn, reason, and solve problems. An issue causes it with the brain. It can affect anyone at any age. Intellectual disability is often misunderstood as developmental disabilities themselves. However, although a part of it, intellectual disability is not the same as developmental disabilities.

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) are usually present at birth and can show up to 18 years. They impact a child’s emotional, intellectual, and physical development. If you are confused between intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities, you should first try and learn what IDD stands for in mental health.

Behavioural disabilities

Behavioural disabilities are a group of mental health disabilities that affect a child’s ability to behave in socially acceptable ways. A combination of genetics and environment causes most behavioural disabilities. Behavioural disabilities are often diagnosed during childhood and adolescence.

Some examples of behavioural disabilities include:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disability (ADHD)
  • Oppositional defiant disability (ODD)
  • Conduct disability
  • Post-traumatic stress disability (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disabilities like obsessive-compulsive disability (OCD)

Behavioural problems in children can be caused by trauma or abuse during childhood and an inherited tendency toward aggression or impulsivity. They may also be triggered by challenging environments, such as living with parents who lack parenting skills or have substance abuse issues.

Down syndrome

Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21. It is the most common chromosomal disorder and can cause various physical and cognitive challenges. Data from the UN shows that between 3,000–5,000 children are born with this disorder worldwide every year.

People with Down Syndrome usually have characteristic facial features, such as a flat face and an upward slant in the eyes. They may also have developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, and difficulty with motor skills. Despite these challenges, people with Down syndrome can lead full and meaningful lives with the right support and accommodations.

With advances in medical care, many people with Down syndrome are living longer, healthier lives than ever. With proper support, individuals with Down Syndrome can achieve their goals and lead fulfilling lives.

Cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is a condition that causes impairment in physical movement, muscle tone, and motor skills. It develops in the womb or during early childhood, usually before age 2. Estimates show that the prevalence of cerebral palsy is about 1 to 4 in 1,000 childbirths.

There are three main types, spastic, athetoid, and ataxic. The symptoms may include cerebral palsy include:

  • Muscle tightness or weakness
  • Stiff joints
  • Problems with balance and coordination
  • Difficulty swallowing or chewing food
  • Frequent falls due to poor balance
  • Slurred speech that may sound like baby talk (dysarthria)
  • Drooling because of poor swallowing ability (dysphagia)

Fetal alcohol syndrome

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a spectrum of disabilities that can affect every organ system in the body. It is caused by alcohol exposure in the womb and interferes with the development of a child’s brain and other organs. Experts estimate 2% to 5% of US children have fetal alcohol syndrome due to prenatal alcohol exposure.

The effects of FAS can range from mild to severe, but some common symptoms include the following:

  • Small head size
  • Shorter-than-average height for age
  • Problems with muscle tone
  • Learning disabilities and intellectual impairment

While there’s no cure for FAS, special education programs can help affected children learn to cope with their conditions as they grow up.

Spina bifida

Spina bifida is a neural tube defect that causes the spinal column to form incorrectly and leave a gap in the backbone. The opening can cause varying degrees of nerve damage, leading to motor function impairment and other complications.

The symptoms of spina bifida vary depending on how extensive the damage is. Paralyzed limbs are common, as well as incontinence. Some people may also have hydrocephalus or other problems related to fluid buildup in their brainstem, which can result in developmental delays and learning disabilities, depending on the severity of these conditions.

Treatment for spina bifida depends on what type you have, occulta or meningitis. Surgery may be necessary if there’s too much pressure on your spinal cord or if there’s an exposed part that needs protection during normal activity so as not to cause further injury. Otherwise, treatment involves physical therapy sessions that teach you exercises to improve mobility while reducing pain caused by spasticity.


If you or someone you know is struggling with one of these developmental disabilities, getting help as soon as possible is essential. The sooner a child can be diagnosed and get treatment, the more likely they will lead a healthy, happy life.

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg.


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