Over 6 million individuals in the United States have developmental disabilities. A developmental disability, according to the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, is defined as a severe, chronic disability which:

  • originated at birth or during childhood,
  • is expected to continue indefinitely, and
  • substantially restricts the individuals functioning in several major life activities.

More specifically, a developmental disability is a severe, chronic disability which:

  • is attributable to a mental or physical impairment or a combination of mental and physical impairments;
  • is manifested before the person attains age 22;
  • results in substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following areas of major life activity:
    • self-care
    • receptive and expressive language
    • learning
    • mobility
    • self-direction
    • capacity for independent living, and
    • economic self-sufficiency;
  • reflects the person’s need for a combination and sequence of special, interdisciplinary, or generic care, treatment, or other services which are of lifelong or extended duration and are individually planned and coordinated;
  • except that such term when applied to infants and young children means individuals from birth to age five, inclusive, who have substantial developmental delay or specific congenital or acquired conditions with a high probability of resulting in developmental disabilities if services are not provided.

Examples of developmental disabilities include:

  • Autism
  • Behavior disorders
  • Brain injury
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Down syndrome
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Mental retardation
  • Spina Bifida

People with developmental disabilities benefit from comprehensive long-term services. With such services, people with disabilities are often able to be more active, productive, and independent, which benefits their communities as well.

For more information, visit the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 2000 on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.


“We all want the same basic things out of life: a decent and comfortable place to call ‘home’, something meaningful to do during the day, some close friends with whom to share the good times and from whom we receive support in difficult times, and the opportunity to make our own decisions about things that will affect our personal lives. People with disabilities want these same basic things and are increasingly speaking up for themselves about what they want. And staff, family and State agency professionals are beginning to really listen.”

Excerpted from “Home, Sweet Home” by Susan L. Babin, IMPACT: Feature Issue on Supported Living (1995), published by the Institute on Community Integration.