Developmental Disabilities

What are Developmental Disabilities

People with developmental disabilities have limitations due to difficulties in the development of physical, emotional or intellectual capabilities to cope with the demands of their environment. Developmental disabilities may include physical disorders such as cerebral palsy, as well as language and speech disorders, limited intellectual development and pervasive developmental disorders such as autism. People with developmental disabilities have a different level of understanding when dealing with normal events.

The causes of developmental disabilities are varied and in some cases unknown. They include environmental factors such as infections during pregnancy, lack of oxygen during birth, physical abuse during the developmental years, parental use of alcohol and drugs, lead poisoning, car accidents, lack of nurturing as a baby, etc. and generic factors inappropriate number of chromosomes with missing parts, inheriting of abnormal genes or a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

We all have a right to be free from prejudice and victimization and a shared responsibility to make that happen. This quick guide is designed to give you practical information if someone you love is affected by a developmental disability. It tells you how to respond and who to call for help.

A developmental disability can be define as a severe, chronic disability of a person which can occur before or after birth and results in lifelong difficulties in three or more of the following areas:

  • self-care
  • understanding and making oneself understood
  • learning new information or skills
  • moving around, physical mobility
  • motivation / self-direction
  • daily living skills
  • finding and/or keeping a job

A person with a developmental disability needs help in some or all these areas. These supports should be individually planned and coordinated.

How to Communicate with Someone Who Has a Developmental Disability:

When communicating with someone who has a developmental disability:

  • use simple sentences
  • make instructions clear and concise
  • talk to the person as a person; talk to adults as adults, not children
  • talk with the person even though she or he may not be verbal enough to respond

Each person deserves the same respect as anyone else.

Cornerstones for Supporting Individuals

When The cornerstone for supporting individuals are community inclusion and self-determination. The belief that all human beings desire to belong and participate with others in families, neighborhoods, networks and groups.​ The belief that all citizens desire to have choice and control in their lives.

Crimes People with Developmental Disabilities Are Commonly Victims of:

  • children may be molested or otherwise abused
  • adults may be easily robbed or the victim of con artists
  • the majority of adults with a developmental disability have been sexually abused, especially if they have been institutionalized
  • people with developmental disabilities are like everyone else, they want to belong, to please and be accepted. This makes them an easy target
  • people with developmental disabilities have problems in the justice system because of a lack of communication skills, poor recall, or the stigma of not being seen as credible

What is the Difference Between Mental Illness and Developmental Disability?

Think of developmental disability as an interruption in the development of learning. Simply put, those with developmental disabilities don’t learn as quickly as others do. Developmental disabilities can’t be fixed. The current goal of service and care providers is to provide appropriate supports to improve the daily living experiences of those with developmental disabilities.

Mental illness is when a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors cause them or others distress. Examples include schizophrenia, depression, eating, mood and anxiety disorders. All mental illnesses are treatable with a combination of drug and other therapies.

Use the STOP criteria to recognize attitudes and actions that support the stigma of developmental disabilities. It’s easy, just ask yourself if what you hear:

  • S – Sterotypes people with developmental disabilities (that is, assumes they are all alike rather than individuals)?
  • T – Trivializes or belittles people with developmental disabilities and / or the illness itself?
  • O – Offends people with developmental disabilities by insulting them?​
  • P – Patronizes people with developmental disabilities by treating them as if they were not as good as other people?
  • If you see or hear something which does not pass the STOP criteria,speak up! Help others realize how their words affect people.


  • B – Be respectful. Treat them the way you would want to be treated​
  • E – Encourage them to relax by being friendly, patient and accepting​
  • U – Use simple sentences​
  • N – Never raise your voice or yell. Those with developmental disabilities have feelings just like you.​
  • D – Don’t crowd the person. Let them know what you are doing before you do it.
  • E – Encourage the person with a disability to get involved.
  • R – Recognize that a person may be easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation.
  • ​S – Speak naturally and talk directly to the person – adult to adult.
  • T – Talk with the person even though they may not be able to respond.
  • A – Allow the person with disabilities to do things for themselves even if it takes longer.
  • N – Notice any medical alert bracelets and then follow-procedures indicated.
  • D – Don`t force your help on them. Offer to assist them and let them respond.
  • ​I – Instructions need to be clear and concise.
  • N – Note that people with autism are especially sensitive to touch.
  • G – Gather information from family or bystanders.