According to the Centre for Disease Control, developmental disabilities are a group of conditions that emerge in the developmental period and last throughout a person’s lifetime. These disorders are usually associated with impairments in physical, learning, language, or behaviour areas. It is estimated by the National Centre for Health Statistics that between 7-15% of the population has some sort of developmental disability.
The CDC recognises numerous types of developmental disabilities. These include:
These difficulties are first manifested in failure to reach or delayed reach of certain developmental milestones, for instance, in terms of speaking and moving. Thus for new parents, awareness of developmental disorders becomes crucial to ensure that their children receive timely intervention and maximise their functioning. While some children with developmental disabilities may have IQ’s in the ‘normal’ range and perform well academically, they might do poorly in other aspects, such as social interaction, as is the case in autism spectrum disorder.
There are several causes and risk factors for developmental disorders, which may impact the child even before they are born. Parental factors such as maternal smoking and alcohol consumption, or exposure to harmful environmental influences such as toxins and lead, may also lead to the occurrence of developmental disorders.
For instance, nearly 25% of all hearing loss cases in babies are caused due to maternal infections, such as cytomegalovirus. Genetics too play a role in the incidence of certain developmental disorders, especially Down Syndrome, which is most commonly caused by a trisomy of the 21st chromosome (Chapman & Hesketh, 2000). On the whole, the consensus is that developmental disorders are caused by a complex interplay of factors (CDC, n.d.)
People with developmental disabilities largely have the same needs as other members of society, and in most cases, can live full, active lives. It is essential that other people are sensitised to the special challenges they face and that educational and medical facilities and support are provided so that these individuals can reach their full potential.
Especially in Indian society, there are many prevailing stereotypes and prejudiced beliefs about individuals with developmental disabilities. People with learning disabilities are often characterised as lazy or unwilling to put in the effort. They are not taken to a physician or mental health professional for evaluation so that they can receive the appropriate support.
Similarly, individuals with visual or other physical impairments are often sent to special schools or removed from school altogether. At the same time, research has consistently shown that mainstreaming is the best solution in terms of helping individuals with developmental difficulties achieve their maximum social and educational potential, except in cases such as those of profound neurodivergence where even basic routine tasks cannot be mastered (Woolfolk, 2006; Leicester, 2008).
Later in life, despite the existence of government reservations for the ‘divyang’ or disabled individuals, these individuals also face discrimination while finding jobs or spouses. Additionally, many public spaces are also unfriendly to individuals with diverse needs.
Thus, awareness of developmental disorders is necessary to ensure timely intervention and support to those affected and sensitise the larger public about the special challenges that these individuals face. Over time, changes in policy coupled with a rise in public awareness can help make the world a more inclusive, supportive and more fulfilling place for a significant segment of the population.