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Understanding Developmental Disabilities

Developmental disabilities create delays and/or impairments in daily activities that can impact a child's health and well-being. According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 6 children in the United States has developmental disabilities or other developmental delays.

Understanding Developmental Disabilities

Developmental disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, and vision loss, create delays and/or impairments in daily activities that can impact a child's health and well-being. According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 6 children in the United States has developmental disabilities or other developmental delays. During Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, learn what you can do as a parent or guardian to best care for your child.

Although about 1 in 6 children has a developmental disability, less than half of these children are diagnosed before starting school. Parents can help solve this problem. Too often, adults don't recognize the signs of a potential developmental disability, are unsure if their concern is necessary, or they don't have the resources. But pinpointing concerns and talking about them is very important to get a child the help he or she might need.

What are developmental milestones?

Developmental milestones are skills such as taking the first step, smiling for the first time, and waving "bye-bye." Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, behave, and move. Children develop at their own pace, so it's impossible to tell precisely when a child will learn a given skill. However, the developmental milestones give a general idea of the changes to expect as a child gets older. As a parent, you know your child best. If your child is not meeting the milestones for his or her age, or if you think there could be a problem with the way your child plays, learns, speaks, acts, and moves, talk to your child's doctor and share your concerns as soon as possible. Acting early on developmental concerns can make a real difference for your child and you. Early intervention helps children improve their abilities and learn new skills.

What is the monitoring and screening process?

A child's growth and development are observed and tracked by both the parents and their developmental pediatrician. At each well-child visit, the doctor looks for developmental delays or problems and talks with the parents about any concerns the parents might have, which is called developmental monitoring. If there are any problems noticed during developmental monitoring, they will be followed up by a developmental screening. Developmental screening is a short test to tell if a child is learning basic skills when he or she should, or if there are delays. If a child has a developmental delay, it is essential to get help as soon as possible. Early identification and intervention can have a significant impact on a child's ability to learn new skills, as well as reduce the need for costly interventions over time.

What are the causes and risk factors?

Developmental disabilities begin anytime during the developmental period and usually last throughout a person's lifetime. Most developmental disabilities occur before a baby is born, but some can happen after birth because of injury, infection, or other factors. Most developmental disabilities are said to be caused by a mix of factors, including:

  • Genetics
  • Parental health and behaviors (such as smoking and drinking) during pregnancy
  • Complications during birth
  • Infections the mother might have during pregnancy, or the baby might have very early in life
  • Exposure of the mother or child to high levels of environmental toxins, such as lead.

For some developmental disabilities, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, which is caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy, the cause is known. But for most of them, the exact cause is not known.

Living with a Developmental Disability

Children and adults with disabilities need health care and health programs for the same reasons anyone else does—to stay well, active, and a part of the community. Having a disability does not mean a person is not healthy or that he or she cannot be healthy. Being healthy means the same thing for all of us—getting and staying well so we can lead full, active lives. That includes having the tools and information to make healthy choices and knowing how to prevent illness. Some health conditions, such as asthma, gastrointestinal symptoms, eczema and skin allergies, and migraine headaches, are more common among children with developmental disabilities. Therefore, children with developmental disabilities need to see a health care provider regularly.
It is only when a baby or preschooler falls far behind, or fails to reach developmental milestones, or loses a previously developed skill, is there reason to consider a developmental disability. If you're worried that your child is showing signs of a developmental delay or behavior difficulties, our team at CapitalCare Developmental Pediatrics can help. 

CapitalCare Developmental Pediatrics, located in Latham, NY, is devoted to the special care of children with developmental disabilities. They offer a high level of clinical diagnostic services to help parents gain the knowledge and capability to care for their children. Contact them today at (518) 782-7733.


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