About Developmental Disabilities

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About developmental disabilities

FACT: About 17% of U.S. children under 18 years of age have a developmental disability.

Developmental disabilities are a diverse group of physical, cognitive, psychological, sensory, and speech impairments that begin anytime during development up to 18 years of age. In most instances, the cause of the disability is not known. That's why it's important to understand what factors increase the chance that a child will have a developmental disability and what can be done to prevent the condition.

Approximately 2% of school-aged children in the U.S. have a serious developmental disability, such as mental retardation or cerebral palsy, and need special education services or supportive care.

State and federal education departments spend about $36 billion each year on special education programs for individuals with developmental disabilities who are 3-21 years old.

The developmental disabilities program at CDC conducts the following activities:

(1) Designs and conducts surveillance of developmental disabilities and selected adverse reproductive outcomes to a) identify rates, trends, and patterns of occurrence of these conditions and b) evaluate the effectiveness of prevention programs.

(2) Conducts epidemiologic studies of child development, developmental disabilities, and selected adverse reproductive outcomes to identify causes of and possible protective factors and risk factors for these conditions, including genetic, environmental, reproductive, and other factors.

(3) Conducts research on primary interventions and evaluates the effectiveness of intervention strategies for the promotion of optimal child development and the prevention of developmental disabilities and selected adverse reproductive outcomes.

(4) Disseminates and distributes publications and special reports to scientific and technical journals.

(5) Coordinates activities with other CDC functional units, Public Health agencies, federal and state agencies, and appropriate private organizations regarding research and prevention programs for the promotion of child development and the prevention of developmental disabilities and selected adverse reproductive outcomes.

(6) Consults with international organizations in developing strategies for the promotion of child development and the prevention of developmental disabilities and selected adverse reproductive outcomes.


National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) staff have written scientific papers on developmental disabilities. These papers look at such topics as how common these disabilities are and what causes them. You can see a list of these papers (starting in 1990) by using the keyword search on the NCBDDD publications Web page. Choose "developmental disability" in the keyword box on the search page. You can choose whether you want the list to be sorted by author or by date. You can also choose to have the list appear with or without graphics. Click on the Submit button. You will see a list of papers that are about developmental disabilities. The list will include the complete reference for each paper and a link to an abstract of the paper or to the full text, when available. [Go to NCBDDD publications keyword search page]


The following links are to federal agencies that work in the developmental disabilities arena and to selected federally funded programs.

DISCLAIMER: Links to organizations outside of CDC are included for information only. CDC has no control over the information at these sites. Views and opinions of these organizations are not necessarily those of CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), or the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS).

Administration for Children and Families: Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ACF) provides information on programs, policies, and activities related to partnerships with state governments, local communities, and the private sector that are designed to help assist people with developmental disabilities reach their maximum potential through increased independence, productivity, and community integration.

The National Council on Disability (NCD) is an independent federal agency making recommendations to the President and Congress on issues affecting 54 million Americans with disabilities.

National Eye Institute(NEI) provides information for researchers, health care professionals, public, patients, educators, and the media.

The National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY) is a national information and referral center that provides information on disabilities and disability-related issues for families, educators, and other professionals. The site includes State Resource Sheets that list agencies serving children and youth with disabilities, chapters of disability organizations and parent groups, and parent training and information projects in each state.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) is part of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The NICHD conducts and supports laboratory, clinical, and epidemiological research on the reproductive, neurobiologic, developmental, and behavioral processes that determine and maintain the health of children, adults, families, and populations.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders(NIDCD) provides the federal government's focal point for biomedical and behavioral research in human communication, the Institute supports and conducts research on the normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language. This Web site also has the NIDCD Clearinghouse which disseminates information about disorders of human communication.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a component of the National Institutes of Health, is the leading federal supporter of research on brain and nervous system disorders. The Institute also sponsors an active public information program and can answer questions about the diagnosis and treatment of autism and about research related to autism.

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) oversees various programs related to disabilities, including Americans with Disability Act programs, research of solutions to specific problems encountered by individuals with disabilities and the professionals who work with them, and technology-related assistance.

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), which is one of the principal components of the U.S. Department of Education (ED). OSERS includes the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).

The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) is a component of the OSERS' mission and organizational focus is on the free appropriate public education of children and youth with disabilities from birth through age 21.

Rehabilitative Services Administration (RSA) mission and organizational focus is on vocational and rehabilitative services for adults with disabilities.

The Combined Health Information Database (CHID) is a database produced by health-related agencies of the federal government. This database provides titles, abstracts, and availability information for health information and health education resources. CHID lists a wealth of health promotion and education materials and program descriptions that are not indexed elsewhere.
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