What is a developmental disability?

Disabled teen with a career

Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to physical, learning, language, or behavioural impairment. These conditions begin during the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime. Examples of developmental disabilities include cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and autism, to name a few.

Symptoms of developmental disabilities

Children with developmental disabilities do not reach certain developmental milestones. Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, behave, and move (for example, crawling and walking). Children develop at their own pace, so it’s impossible to tell exactly when a child will learn a skill. However, the developmental milestones give a general idea of the changes to expect as a child gets older. A child not meeting the milestones for his or her age may be a sign of a developmental disability.

What causes a developmental disability?

A complex mix of factors causes most developmental disabilities. These factors include genetics; parental health and behaviours (such as smoking and drinking) during pregnancy; complications during birth; infections the mother might have during pregnancy or the baby might have very early in life; and exposure of the mother or child to high levels of environmental toxins, such as lead. For some developmental disabilities, the cause is never known.

How is a developmental disability diagnosed? Disabled man is writing

A child’s growth and development are followed through a partnership between parents and health care professionals. At each well-child visit, the doctor looks for developmental delays or problems and talks with the parents about any concerns parents might have. This is called developmental monitoring. Any problems noticed during developmental monitoring should be followed up with developmental screening. Developmental screening is a short test to tell if a child is learning basic skills when he or she should or if there are delays.

How is a developmental disability treated?

Not a single treatment works for every child with a developmental disability. Any treatment plan will consider this uniqueness and be designed to focus on individual needs. Early intervention services are the main treatment theme, but any underlying conditions that have led to developmental delay will also need to be treated. Early intervention services may include:

  • Speech and language therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Behaviour therapies, such as those used to treat autism and behavioural issues

In addition, if there are other disabilities present, medical or surgical treatments may be required to manage those conditions.

The prognosis for a developmental disability People living with disability

The child’s progress depends in large part on the underlying diagnosis of the developmental delay. Early identification and treatment will optimize a child’s progress. Some children may “catch up” to peers over time, while others may have disabilities that persist into adult life. Many of these adults may be independent in their function, some individuals may have mild disabilities requiring limited societal support, and others may require extensive support due to the extent of their disability. A minority of children might be diagnosed with a “progressive” condition (one that causes further injury to the nervous system over time). The child may plateau or regress in their development due to that condition. Still, with support, the child’s function can be optimized.

Mobility for those with developmental disabilities

Some children with developmental disabilities require the use of a specialized power wheelchair. Quantum Rehab, the global leader in individualized powerchairs, emphasizes mobility technologies specific to the needs of those with developmental disabilities.

Powerchairs incorporate power-adjustable seating for user repositioning and comfort; speciality drive controls, including those requiring minimal hand strength; and a highly adaptable design to meet an individual’s current and future needs.

Quantum powerchairs feature the latest advanced technologies to increase the independence of those with developmental disabilities. iLevel seat elevation technology allows users to operate the powerchair seated or standing. Bluetooth is also integrated into Quantum’s Q-Logic 3 electronics, so those with developmental disabilities can operate much of their environment with the powerchair drive control itself. Powerchairs for those with developmental disabilities are designed to provide optimal medical comfort and maximum independence.


The Quantum Edge 3 with industry-first 4.5 mph at iLevel offers the most advanced powerchair experience. Q6 powerchair series, which includes the Edge 3 and Q6 Edge 2 power chairs, provide highly adjustable mid-wheel drive power bases. The Q6 Edge 2 all accept our optional iLevel technology, which offers up to 12 inches of lift at 4.5 mph. The 4Front is a quiet, more responsive front-wheel drive powerchair that features automotive-grade suspension with unprecedented comfort and rides quality. See our range of powered mobility solutions here

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