Anyone planning a family, expecting a child, or watching young children grow will ask themselves one or more of these five questions.

Let’s take the first two questions together; What are Developmental Disabilities, and are they the same as Mental Illness?  The short answer is NO.  They are different.

A developmental disability (disorder) is a mental or physical condition that becomes apparent during a child’s development from conception to early adulthood (about age eighteen).  The condition may be genetic, physical, or psychological.  It is not sure what causes these disorders.  They are generally accepted to result from a complex combination of factors.

Developmental disorders may appear at birth or become apparent only later in infancy or childhood.

We look at some probable causes a little later in this article.

Now for the second question.  Is Mental Illness the same as a Developmental Disorder?

The answer is No, but it may not be easy to distinguish between the two because the outward signs may be similar.  A key difference is that developmental disorders can be recognized or diagnosed at any stage up to 18 years of age and are omnipresent (lifelong) disorders.

‘Mental illness’ covers mood swings, depression, anxiety disorders, and psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.  Mental illness is usually attributable to a traumatic event.  Mental illnesses can develop at any age and may be long-term (chronic), temporary, or episodic (recurring). 

What causes developmental disabilities?

Developmental disabilities result from brain and nervous system trauma during their development stages.  The brain and the nervous system develop soon after conception and continue in most individuals until adulthood.  Many kinds of trauma can interfere with the normal development of the brain and nervous system both ‘in utero’ and early childhood (Congenital Disability (Birth Defect) Prevention ( Defining the exact cause(s)  of the damage is not always possible.

Many specific agents cause developmental disabilities or are associated with an increased risk of developing a disability.  Among these are:-

  • Genetics-inherited/chromosomal traits
  • Parental health -before or during pregnancy
  • Parental lifestyle choices-e.g., smoking (nicotine) and drinking (alcohol)
  • Non-prescription drug usage
  • Infections during pregnancy
  • Exposure to environmental toxins

Some causal links are clear.  Among them are fetal alcohol syndrome and infant drug dependency.  Other links are unclear, but maternal infections during pregnancy, complications after birth, and head trauma cause over a quarter of hearing loss in babies.   It is also clear that unless treated early, jaundice in newborn children can cause a type of brain damage (kernicterus).  Children suffering from kernicterus are likelier to have hearing and vision problems, cerebral palsy, and dental abnormalities.

Most of these disorders are present at birth.  A pediatrician can readily identify signs of jaundice, Down Syndrome, or fetal alcohol syndrome at birth.  Other conditions may emerge or become clear only later in a child’s development.  Physical coordination, poor vision, hearing, speech, and learning difficulties are examples.

How are developmental disorders detected?

Every child develops at their own pace.  Their physical growth and the skills and abilities and skills they acquire, as they grow older show their progress.  We are all familiar with the need to regularly weigh and measure a baby’s length (height) as they grow.  If the results differ significantly from the norm (average) for their age, we look for possible causes.  We make judgments about any corrective action we should take.

Other signs of development are not so obvious.  A range of skills and abilities indicates that a child is progressing normally at any stage in a child’s development.

These skills and abilities can be categorized as:-

  • Physical
  • Cognitive
  • Language
  • Social/emotional

In each category, developmental milestones mark the age by which most children will have reached a certain level of capability.

Skills such as taking the first step, intentionally smiling for the first time, and waving “bye-bye” are examples of developmental milestones.

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) provides a complete list of developmental milestones for children aged from two months to five years

Parents and caregivers will want to make sure a child is developing healthily.  Developmental milestone checklists and parental observation are vital factors in the early identification of possible disorders.  They are not a substitute for the ‘standardized and validated developmental screening tools’ accessible through the Well-Child program.  It is essential to keep all well-child appointments.  Age-related development is screened at each visit.

Your ACA-compliant health insurance covers scheduled Well Child visits to the doctor’s office.  Your insurance may not cover potential tests or techniques.  Before asking for tests or procedures other than standard, check with your doctor or insurer.

There is no substitute for a solid parent-child bond, good nutrition, adequate sleep, and a safe, nurturing environment at home and school.  The resulting security helps ensure children have the best chance of developing as they should.

Where can we get support?

Suppose you plan to get pregnant or suspect you are already pregnant.  In either case, consult your primary care doctor early.

You are naturally concerned about ensuring your baby has the best chance of avoiding the risks of any developmental disabilities.  For further information CDC (

Suppose your infant shows symptoms of a developmental disorder.  There, Healthline (Understanding the Stages of Child Development ( (provides a list of resources to help you locate and contact health professionals, specialists, and possible sources of financial help.

  •       Specialist-medical and rehabilitative services
  • Educational services
  • Covering costs-private foundations, government programs, social security benefits
  • Medicaid
  • Medicare
  • Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
  • Resource Hubs-access to local/state providers, services, and assistance

Finally, remember that an addition to the family (birth or adoption) lets you take advantage of a Special Enrollment Period (SEP).  An SEP is your opportunity to review your health insurance needs, considering your changed circumstances.  You have 60 days to amend your existing cover or sign up for a new plan after the event.

You may choose a network (HMP vs. PPO Health Insurance Policy-Which is better? )  that includes your preferred provider, pediatrician, and gynecologist.  Perhaps some plans offer better coverage for your expected medical and healthcare expenses.

Contact your existing insurance provider, plan coordinator (employer-sponsored health insurance), or an experienced, qualified health insurance broker.

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