Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions caused due to physical, learning, language or behavioural impairment. These conditions begin during the developmental period of a child, may impact their day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.
Skills such as taking the first step, smiling for the first time and waving “bye-bye” are called developmental milestones. Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, behave and move (for example, crawling and walking). Children develop at their own pace, so it’s impossible to tell exactly when a child will reach a given skill. However, developmental milestones give a general idea of the changes to expect as a child gets older.
A child’s growth and development are followed through a partnership between parents and healthcare professionals. At each well-child visit, the doctor looks for developmental delays or problems, and talks with the parents about any concerns they might have. This is called developmental monitoring.
Any problems noticed during developmental monitoring should be followed up with developmental screening. Developmental screening is a short test to tell if a child is learning basic skills when they should, or if there are delays.
If a child has a developmental delay, it is important 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.
Developmental disabilities can begin anytime during the developmental period and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime. Most developmental disabilities begin before a baby is born, but some can happen after birth because of an injury, infection or other factors.
Most developmental disabilities are thought to be caused by a complex mix of factors. These factors include genetics, parental health and behaviour (such as smoking and drinking) during pregnancy, complications during birth, any infections the mother might have had during pregnancy or the baby might have had very early in life, and 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, we know the cause. But for most, we don’t.
Children and adults with disabilities need healthcare and health programmes for the same reasons that anyone else does — to stay well, active and be a part of the community.
Having a disability does not mean a person is not healthy or that they cannot be healthy. Being healthy means the same thing for all of us — getting and staying well so that 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 have been found to be more common among children with developmental disabilities. Thus, it is especially important for children with developmental disabilities to see a healthcare provider regularly.