Define Developmental Disabilities

The lay man has always referred to individuals suffering from developmental disabilities as mentally retarded. Developmentally disabled individuals possess lower-than-normal intelligence and limited ability to perform everyday duties. Such problems can be visible right from birth or may develop later during adolescence. The disability usually occurs before the age of 18 and remains throughout one's life. When measured by standard tests for Intelligent Quotient or IQ, the intellectual level of a developmentally disabled person is found below average. Mentally retarded people have often being called ‘idiot' or ‘imbecile' by the general populace. The term ‘mentally retarded' thus got changed to ‘mentally challenged' due to such insulting terms.

Various skills are needed to perform our day-day activities. These include academic skills (writing, reading or doing mathematics); communication skills (the ability to understand and produce language); social skills (the ability to interact with people on a regular basis, at home or in the neighborhood); working skills; and understanding of safety measures or health concepts. If a child shows major limitations in two or more of these skills, he or she is diagnosed as mentally challenged. While diagnosing, the IQ score - which measures the ability of a person to reason as per one's age - is also taken into account. A mentally challenged person usually scores below 70-75.

Children suffering from developmental disability usually walk or talk much later than normal children. Heredity, prenatal problems or environmental factors can lead to developmental disability. Children, having suffered from an illness like meningitis or encephalitis or having some neurological disorder, have gone on to experience certain difficulties in adaptation.

Based upon the functioning levels of the individual, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) classifies developmental disability into four types: mild, moderate, severe and profound. About 85 per cent of the developmentally disabled population falls into the mildly mentally challenged category, with an IQ level between 50 and 75. When supported by the community, these individuals can live on their own. Moderately developmentally disabled people are about 10 percent. They have an IQ level between 35 and 50 and can also live a nearly normal life with some supervision.

About three to four percent of the developmentally disabled population is severely affected. They live in group homes, can clean and dress themselves and have an IQ level between 20 and 35. Profoundly mentally challenged are those who have an IQ level of less than 20. Only about one to two per cent of the developmentally disabled population falls into this category. These people can develop many basic skills but they show various other disorders and need continuous supervision.

A doctor has to know a child's physical conditions and medical history to treat any form of developmental disability. Problems arising after a severe illness or due to hormonal imbalance can be treated. But no treatment can change a child's intellectual abilities. Most available treatments try to help a developmentally disabled person to improve and develop the intellectual and daily functional skills. Nowadays, many mentally challenged children get the opportunity to join special schools where the basic skills are taught to them.