Developmental disability is a term used to describe lifelong disabilities attributable to mental or physical impairments, manifested prior to age 18. It is not synonymous with “developmental delay” which is often a consequence of a temporary illness or trauma during childhood. There are many social, environmental and physical causes of developmental disabilities, although for some a definitive cause may never be determined. Common factors causing developmental disabilities include: Traumatic brain injury resulting from accidental causes or physical abuse (blunt force, shaken baby syndrome); Infection before, during or after birth; Growth or nutrition problems (prenatally, perinatally, or postnatally); Abnormalities of chromosomes and genes; Birth long before the expected birth date — also called extreme prematurity; Poor maternal diet and absent or minimal health care; Drug abuse during pregnancy, including alcohol intake and smoking; Drug-related prenatal developmental insult from prescription or over-the-counter drugs; Environmental toxins; Severe physical maltreatment (child abuse), which may have caused brain injury and which can adversely affect a child’s learning abilities and socio-emotional development. Developmental disabilities affect between 1 and 2% of the population in most western countries, although many government sources acknowledge that statistics are flawed in this area. The worldwide proportion of people with developmental disabilities is believed to be approximately 1.4%. It is twice as common in males as in females, and some researchers have found that the prevalence of mild developmental disabilities is likely to be higher in areas of poverty and deprivation, and among people of certain ethnicities.
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