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Developmental Disabilities - CDC Tracking Network

Developmental Disabilities and the Environment

People are exposed to a wide range of chemicals during their lives. Chemicals are present in food, clothes, furniture, housing materials, and more. Evidence suggests that many chemicals can cause damage to the central nervous system which can impact developmental disabilities. However, much of this evidence is based on studies of groups accidentally exposed or workers exposed to levels above those found in the environment.

Avoiding or reducing children's exposure to harmful chemicals may help prevent some developmental disabilities. Most scientific studies about how the environment may impact developmental disabilities have been focused on intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

Intellectual Disabilities

Exposures to lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and methylmercury are well-documented risk factors for intellectual disabilities.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

We do not know all of the causes of ASDs. However, we have learned that there are likely many causes for multiple types of ASDs. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental, biologic and genetic factors.

There is still a lot to learn about environmental contributors to autism and research into some environmental factors is underway. Read more about research at CDC and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Read more about ASD research here.

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