Developmental Disability Facts to Know

Developmental Disability Explained

Developmental disability is defined as a severe, chronic disability which began at birth or early childhood.  This type of disability is expected to continue and limits the individual’s life in several ways.

A developmental disability is a chronic and severe disability that:

  •  is a mental or physical impairment or combination of both
  • manifests before the age of 22

Developmental disabilities cause limitations in the following:

  • Self-care
  • learning
  • receptive and expressive language
  • mobility
  • self-direction
  • independent living
  • financial limitations

Developmental disabilities include:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Behavior Disorders
  • Brain Damage
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Down Syndrome
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Spina Bifida – pregnancy defect

A few possible causes of developmental disabilities include:


May be overshadowed in low-income countries by the high frequency of:

  • Infectious disorders
  • Parasitic influences
  • Nutritional disorders
  • Trauma and stress

There seem to be high rates of developmental disabilities in South Asia, Middle East and North Africa – where relatives marry.  This causes deleterious mutations.  Inbreeding is prevalent in more than 25 percent of parents.

Nutritional disabilities 

Many micronutrient deficiencies are responsible for certain abnormalities during gestation and childbirth.

Iodine deficiency – common in all countries with negative outcomes such as:

  • miscarriage
  • perinatal mortality
  • cognitive and motor impairments
  • Deafness
  • Speech impairment

Folate deficiency – causes many severe birth defects such as:

  • Neural tube defects
  • Spina bifida
  • Motor disability
  • Intellectual impairment

Protein-Energy Malnutrition – causes glitches in the nervous system, resulting in:

  • Speech impairment
  • Poor language development
  • Retarded behavior
  • Learning disabilities


Many prenatal, perinatal and postnatal infections can damage the developing nervous system and cause long-term disabilities in children. These are prevalent in low-income countries.

  • Congenital rubella – causes deafness and visual impairment, mental retardation and failure to thrive.  Where vaccinations are enforced, there are fewer cases of rubella outbreaks.
  • Meningitis – causes deafness, seizures and mental retardation.
  • Measles – cause blindness.
  • Trachoma – causes blindness in early adulthood.