Disabilities in Children

Developmental disabilities include a complex group of disorders that cause physical impairments, intellectual disabilities, speech disorders, and medical conditions. Developmental disabilities are sometimes diagnosed at birth, but more often, are not easily identified until ages three to six.

Types of Developmental Disabilities

Developmental disabilities may range from mild to severe. Some of the more common developmental disabilities include:1

Developmental Delay vs. Disability

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 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.

Functioning as Adults

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.

Early Therapy

The amount and quality of therapy that they received as children can impact functioning levels as an adult. A child who receives intensive, appropriate therapies as a youngster is more likely to build skills and self-confidence 2 —thus boosting the likelihood that he will do well as an adult.


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.3


The severity of the disability also plays a role in adult functioning. 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. 

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.

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