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Developmental Disabilities

In the United States, about 1 in 6 children have a developmental disability. Developmental disabilities are a diverse group of severe chronic conditions that are due to mental and/or physical impairments. People with developmental disabilities have problems with major life activities such as language, movement, learning, self-help, and living by themselves. These disabilities can begin anytime during development up to age 22. Developmental disabilities usually last throughout a person's lifetime.

The specific cause of most developmental disabilities is unknown. They may result from an interaction between genetic, environmental, and social factors. Many developmental disabilities are inherited and cannot be prevented. But some can be prevented or lessened by having a healthy pregnancy, by detecting and treating conditions early, and by preventing harmful exposures and injuries.

A father helping his daughter put on her jacket.

Developmental disabilities may be caused by

  • genetics or chromosomal abnormalities,
  • maternal conditions before and during pregnancy, or
  • childhood exposures to
    • certain foods or drinks,
    • hazardous substances,
    • infections,
    • physical trauma, or
    • stress.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities is working to

  • study how common developmental disabilities are and who is more likely to have them,
  • find the causes of developmental disabilities and the factors that increase the chance that a person will have one, and
  • learn how people with developmental disabilities can improve the quality of their lives.

You can read more about this work on CDC's Developmental Disabilities website. The Tracking Network currently includes data for seven developmental disabilities. Read more about these developmental disabilities.


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