CDC’s Work on Developmental Disabilities

Group of kids. Back row is standing. Front row is sitting.

Recent estimates in the United States show that about one in six, or about 17%, of children aged 3 through 17 years have a one or more developmental disabilities.1 Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. These conditions begin during the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.2

CDC is undertaking efforts to:

  • Study how common developmental disabilities are, who is more likely to have them, and whether their occurrence is changing over time.
  • Identify factors that can put children at risk for developmental disabilities and explore possible causes.
  • Improve identification of developmental delays so children and families can get the services and support they need as early as possible.

Determining How Many People Have Developmental Disabilities—Tracking

By tracking the number of children with developmental disabilities over time, we at CDC can find out whether the number is rising, dropping, or staying the same. We also can compare the number of children with developmental disabilities in different parts of the country and look at the different traits or features of children with developmental disabilities, including their demographic, socioeconomic, and birth and maternal characteristics. This information can help us look for risk factors and possible causes for developmental disabilities and can better inform prevention programs and policy development. These data also can help communities to plan for services and respond to the needs of families.

Learn more about tracking »

Understanding Risk Factors and Causes—Research

For some developmental disabilities, we know the risk factors and causes. For many others, we do not. Research can help us fill in these gaps. Understanding the factors that can place a child at greater risk for developmental disabilities will help us learn more about the causes of developmental disabilities, shape prevention efforts, and develop effective treatments.

CDC is currently funding and collaborating on the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED), one of the largest studies in the United States to help us learn more about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in preschool-aged children, including risk factors and behavioral characteristics. SEED has now been expanded to learn more about the health, functioning, and needs of individuals with ASD and other developmental disabilities as they mature.

Learn more about research »

Promoting Early Identification of Developmental Disabilities

We naturally think of a child’s growth as height and weight, but from birth through 5 years, a child should reach milestones in how he or she plays, learns, speaks, acts, and moves. A delay in any of these areas could be a sign of a developmental disability.

Through the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” program, CDC and its partners aim to improve early identification of children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities by promoting developmental monitoring, so children and families can get the services and support they need.


  1. Cogswell ME, Coil E, Tian LH, Tinker SC, Ryerson AB, Maenner MJ, Rice CE, Peacock G. Health Needs and Use of Services Among Children with Developmental Disabilities—United States, 2014–2018. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2022; 71(12):453–458.
  2. Developmental Disabilities: Delivery of Medical Care for Children and Adults. I. Leslie Rubin and Allen C. Crocker. Philadelphia, Pa, Lea & Febiger, 1989.