What is the Difference Between Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities?

The terms “developmental disability” and “intellectual disability” have two very different meanings. Although developmental disabilities may encompass intellectual disabilities, these two categories are not exactly the same thing.

What is an intellectual disability?

Intellectual disabilities are disorders that originate before 18 years of age, possibly resulting from physical causes such as cerebral palsy, autism, or non-physical causes such as lack of stimulation. Intellectual disorders are characterized by a limited mental capacity and difficulty with adaptive behaviors such as handling routines or social situations.

An intellectual disability describes someone who has a below-average intelligence quotient (IQ) and who lacks the skills needed for daily living. This condition is often formerly known as, “mental retardation.” This term has been widely rejected by most individuals and is rarely used anymore because of the shameful manner in which it was often used.

Children with intellectual disabilities can have a mild or severe case. Children with mild cases can gain independence with teaching and support programs and resources. More severe cases require more one-on-one support in school and at home.

Developmental disabilities

Developmental disabilities are those that appear before 22 years of age. They are life-long disabilities that affect one or both physical and cognitive functioning. Some of these disabilities are physical, like blindness from birth for example. Others are both physical and intellectual disabilities, such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or other genetic causes. Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas . These conditions begin during development in youth.

The term developmental disability encompasses people with intellectual disabilities but also includes physical disabilities.

Intellectual disabilities

People with intellectual disabilities are known for having below-average IQ/cognitive abilities. Other limitations include the ability to perform everyday functioning activities like self-care, routines, hygiene, as well as adaptive behaviors such as communicating, speaking, walking and socializing.

The causes of intellectual disabilities including physical and genetic factors, problems during pregnancy or at birth, health issues at an early age, or exposure to environmental toxins. Some common syndromes include autism, Down syndrome, and fragile X syndrome. While some will have serious, lifelong limitations, with support, education, and early intervention, adults with intellectual disabilities can lead a satisfying life.

History of treatment for developmental and intellectual disabilities

Historically, people with intellectual disabilities were misdiagnosed, institutionalized, and at increased risk for health problems. There were no screening methods to test for disabilities in newborns. Bacterial diseases, such as forms of meningitis, were the leading causes of intellectual disabilities in the past, such as deafness. Environmental exposures to lead were ways people acquired intellectual disabilities as well.

In the late 1960s, screening methods were created to test newborns for developmental disabilities. After this date, they were able to begin to require screenings and artificial hormones or medicines that were needed to diagnose conditions. This way, if doctors noticed an intellectual disability after birth, they were able to diagnose and treat before permanent damage occurred. Vaccinations virtually eliminated those bacterial causes. The lead was removed from paint and gasoline to eliminate those exposures.

Today there are screening tests and vaccinations that are effective tools to prevent congenital disorders. There are also training techniques, communication, language, and behavioral therapies, and other tools to help people living with intellectual disabilities increase their IQ and lessen the effects of any disorders.

How do I know if my child has an intellectual or developmental disability?

Many families have a child with an intellectual disability. To help your child reach their full potential, it is very important to get help as early as possible. Talk with your child’s doctor if you think there could be a problem. The doctor could refer you to a developmental-behavioral pediatrician or other pediatric specialists for further evaluation and screening of your child.

Support resources and treatment for intellectual and developmental disabilities

You can find a family support agency for developmental day treatment services in Little Rock. Integrity is here to help families with children with special education needs. Integrity Inc. is a non-profit, community services organization providing alternative, community-based, in-home care and habilitative therapy services for children with developmental disabilities.

We can help you to get the support or services you need to stay well, active, and a part of the community right here in your area. Getting and staying well is important so we can make healthy choices, prevent illness and lead full, active lives. It is important for children with developmental and intellectual disabilities to regularly seek support or therapy. Learn more about occupational therapy for children with disabilities in Little Rock.

For more information

You are not alone in your experience with either of these disabilities. If you want more information about developmental or intellectual disabilities, then contact Integrity at (501) 406-0442 today.

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