Treating Developmental Disabilities


“Developmental disability” is an umbrella term that describes a chronic condition, identified during the course of a person’s early development, in which there are substantial adaptive functioning deficits related to a physical or mental impairment other than mental illness. Examples of developmental disabilities include cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, epilepsy, fetal alcohol disorders, muscular dystrophy and autism, one of the most common forms of developmental disability.


An intellectual disability is characterized by significant limitations in cognitive functioning and adaptive functioning involving conceptual abilities, life skills and practical abilities.

There is no definitive answer to what causes developmental disabilities. Most are thought to be caused by a complex mix of factors including genetics, parental health during pregnancy, complications during birth, infections the mother had during pregnancy or the baby had very early in life, and exposure of the mother or child to high levels of environmental toxins, such as lead. Fetal alcohol syndrome is caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy, so the origin of some developmental disabilities is known. In all, over 350 causes of developmental disabilities have been identified.

Early intervention therapy enhances individual functioning, thereby creating opportunities for affected individuals to live an optimal life in adulthood that — in many instances — includes education, work, independent living, marriage and child-rearing. Treatment, service and support programs have evolved to better meet patient needs, providing them with the most up-to-date tools to live the best life possible.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the course of early development through childhood and adolescence, youth should reach certain milestones in their physical and cognitive development related to how they play, speak, act and move. If a child seems delayed in any of these areas, this could be indicative of an intellectual or developmental disability, and parents should call their child’s primary care provider for a prompt evaluation of their child and to be connected to the most appropriate treatment options.

In New Jersey, if a child is diagnosed with an intellectual or developmental disability, families should contact PerformCare to inquire about available Children’s System of Care functional and therapeutic services. PerformCare is the state’s contracted system administrator for the New Jersey Children’s System of Care. It connects parents and children with behavioral health, developmental disability and substance use treatment services. It maintains a 24/7 call center to quickly assess clients’ needs and, when necessary, will authorize a mobile response unit for in-person counseling. PerformCare New Jersey’s call center is available at 1-877-652-7624.

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