The subject of developmental disabilities and its wide ranging effects on our society is multi-layered and complex. In the months to come, as a part of this series we will cover various topics relating to the developmentally disabled. This article, being the first of the series, will begin with the basics, noting the definition and requirements needed to be considered developmentally disabled.

What is the definition of a developmental disability?  The New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities’ (OPWDD) website defines them to be special conditions that can occur from before a baby’s birth up to the age of 22 years.  Eligibility for support and services available through OPWDD list

these qualifying diagnosis/conditions as:

  • Intellectual Disability (defined by Mental Hygiene Law as Mental Retardation)
  • Autism
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Epilepsy
  • Familiar Departonomia ( a genetic disorder)
  • Neurological Impairment (injury, malformation, or disease involving the central nervous system).[1]

It is Section 1.03 (22) of the New York State Mental Hygiene Law that defines who is eligible for OPWDD services.  Along with the occurrence of any of the above conditions before the age of 22 years, additional requirements include:

  • The disability can be expected to continue indefinitely or permanently
  • The disability causes a substantial handicap to a person’s ability to function normally in society.[2]

Developmental Disabilities Are On The Rise

defintion developmental disabilitiesA recent study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in collaboration with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), details how common developmental disabilities are. They found that one in six children (16.67%) in the United States had a developmental disability during the years 2006-2008.   The 12 year study found the prevalence of parent reported developmental disabilities increased by 17.1% or 1.8 million children from the study’s inception in 1997 to the ending 2006-2008 data.  The groups showing the largest increases occurred in the categories of Autism (289.5%) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (33%)[3].

The developmentally disabled and the increasing numbers of those diagnosed with a disability require various services and supports that families and service providers often struggle to provide.  This can be seen in school programs regulated to provide necessary and appropriate services and service delivery systems, encompassing public and private agencies, trying to serve people with vastly different needs.  It is stressful for families to negotiate these systems and care for a child who has needs over and above a non-disabled child. 

We desire the purpose of this and subsequent articles to be twofold – both educational and as a resource for individuals, families, and caregivers who should know what services are out there and available to them.  Topics for the future will include a more specific focus on each of the qualifying conditions and the subgroups under each one, OPWDD’s intake/eligibility process to access services and the actual services and supports available to individuals and families.

Feedback and suggestions from our readers will be essential to ensure that future articles are providing the information and focus that is important for you to more fully understand developmental disabilities, the varying degrees of disabilities and available supports for this population group.

[1] OPWDD WEB Site. Eligibility FAQs

[2] OPWDD WEB Site. Eligibility FAQs

[3] Boyle CA, Boulet S, Blumberg SJ, Yeargin-Allsop M, Visser S, Kogan MD, Trends in the Prevalence of Developmental Disabilities in US Children, 1997-2008. Pediatrics, 2011