Recent estimates in the United States show that about one in six, or about 15%, 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
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is part of a larger group of public and private organizations working to better understand developmental disabilities.
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.
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 currently is funding and collaborating on the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED), one of the largest U.S. studies to help identify factors that may put children at risk for autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities. We also are exploring risk factors for and investigating causes of developmental disabilities through other national and international collaborations.
Recognizing the Early Signs of Developmental Disabilities—Awareness and Early Identification
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, and acts. A delay in any of these areas could be a sign of a developmental disability. CDC’s Learn the Signs. Act Early. program is making an impact in the lives of families by helping parents and providers recognize the early warning signs of developmental delays and promoting early screening, evaluation, and treatment. The early identification of developmental concerns allows parents to seek intervention during the crucial period of early development
We at CDC work with our partners to increase awareness of developmental disabilities and their effects on families. Since 2006, we have held annual awareness events to bring together community stakeholders and shed light upon developmental disabilities, such as cerebral palsy and autism. We also translate the developmental disabilities data we collect into information that communities can use. Please visit our website to view the most recent Community Report on autism spectrum disorder and our most recent Community Report on cerebral palsy.
- Boyle CA, Boulet S, Schieve L, Cohen RA, Blumberg SJ, Yeargin-Allsopp M, Visser S, Kogan MD. Trends in the Prevalence of Developmental Disabilities in US Children, 1997–2008. Pediatrics. 2011; 27: 1034-1042.
- Developmental Disabilities: Delivery of Medical Care for Children and Adults. I. Leslie Rubin and Allen C. Crocker. Philadelphia, Pa, Lea & Febiger, 1989.
- Page last reviewed: April 21, 2017
- Page last updated: July 9, 2015
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