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What You Need to Know About Developmental or Intellectual Disabilities (IDD)

Intellectual or developmental disabilities occur due to health problems, genetic conditions, environmental factors, and problems during pregnancy and birth.

Child with Intellectual or developmental disabilities

What are Developmental or Intellectual Disabilities?

Developmental or intellectual disabilities (IDD) encompass a range of conditions resulting from impairments in physical, cognitive, linguistic, or behavioral aspects that most often emerge during the early developmental phase, often affecting daily functioning and persisting throughout an individual's life.

Roughly one in six children in the U.S. experience IDD or delays in their growth and learning (CDC). Early identification and intervention can significantly improve outcomes and provide children with the necessary resources to reach their developmental milestones

When Should You Screen for Developmental Delays?

Monitoring for developmental disabilities and delays occurs from birth to about 5 years or older. Parents might choose to have their child undergo developmental screenings for children aged six weeks to three years old to monitor and ensure their child's healthy growth and development. These screenings can help detect any potential developmental delays or issues early on, allowing for timely intervention and support. Regular developmental screenings also offer parents valuable insights into their child's strengths and areas that might need extra attention, fostering a proactive approach to their child's well-being.

The signs of developmental disabilities or delays in children can vary, but come common indicators may include:

  • Communication Delays: Limited vocabulary, difficulty understanding or using language, lack of gestures like pointing or waving.

  • Social Interaction Challenges: Avoid eye contact, not responding to their name, trouble interacting with other children, or difficulties with sharing or taking turns.

  • Motor Skill Issues: Difficulty with walking, crawling, or other gross motor skills, as well as struggles with fine motor skills like holding objects or using utensils.

  • Cognitive Delays: Trouble solving simple problems, not showing interest in toys, or having difficulties understanding simple instructions.

  • Behavioral Differences: Repetitive behaviors, intense reactions to sensory stimuli (lights, sounds, textures), or difficulty transitioning between activities.

  • Regression: Losing previously gained skills, such as language or social abilities.

  • Lack of Play Skills: Not engaging in imaginative or pretend play appropriate for their age.

  • Eating or Sleeping Issues: Persistent trouble with eating, sleeping, or toileting routines.

If you notice any of these signs, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional or developmental specialist for a proper evaluation and guidance. Early intervention can make a significant difference in addressing developmental delays and providing appropriate support.

Diagnosing Developmental Delays in Children

Research shows that getting help early can help kids develop better. According to the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, early intervention can help children in later educational, professional, and communal settings.

Agencies such as the Starved Rock Regional Center (SRRC) provide screening and evaluations for IDD performed by trained therapists and staff. The screenings for children six weeks to three years old are done through interviews and play sessions and are meant to measure milestones before further testing. SRRC and other places offer screenings for free.

Treatment For Developmental Disabilities

The treatment process for intellectual or developmental disabilities in children typically involves a comprehensive approach. This includes specialized therapies such as speech, occupational, and behavioral therapy, tailored to address specific areas of impairment. Additionally, early intervention, individualized education plans, and support services aim to maximize the child's potential and enhance their overall quality of life.

The types of therapy for IDD include:

  • Developmental therapy - focuses on addressing delays or challenges in a child's overall development, including cognitive, social, emotional, and motor skills. It employs various techniques to stimulate growth and enhance a child's abilities in different areas.

  • Speech therapy - aims to help children with speech and language difficulties improve their communication skills. Therapists work on articulation, vocabulary, sentence structure, and comprehension to ensure effective verbal and nonverbal communication.

  • Occupational therapy - focuses on improving a child's ability to perform everyday tasks and activities, especially those related to fine motor skills, sensory processing, and coordination. Occupational therapists collaborate with children to develop skills necessary for independent living and participation in school and social environments.

If you believe your child may be experiencing IDD symptoms, you are not alone. Talk to your child’s pediatrician or healthcare provider about your concerns, and they will recommend the best course of action.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2022). Facts About Developmental Disabilities. Retrieved on August 17, 2023, from



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