Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month – Understanding and Overcoming

Table of contents


    evelopmental Disabilities is a general term to describe conditions usually present at birth or that emerge during early childhood. While their specific symptoms can vary, they can all impact a child’s physical, cognitive, or behavioral abilities. Despite better social awareness, there is still an unfortunate stigma when it comes to developmental disabilities. This stigma can lead to feelings of isolation, low self-esteem, and even depression. It is important to create an inclusive environment that provides support and acceptance for those with developmental disabilities.

    Since 1987, March has officially been recognized as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to help foster understanding and support for children and families struggling with developmental disabilities. The National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities champions the cause, and they have chosen 2024’s theme as “A World of Opportunities“. According to the association:

    “We’re celebrating people and working together to remove obstacles. Our goal is to build a community that’s committed to creating a world where everyone can do well and succeed. Join us in making a world where all kinds of people have the chance to thrive.”

    This guide aims to shed light on these conditions, answer common questions, and offer insights into how we can better support those affected. Proper training for parents and early childhood educators can make a difference. Awareness, understanding, and empathy are key. Every child matters. #DDAM2024

    Image by NACDD

    What is the Difference Between Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities?

    Developmental disabilities and intellectual disabilities are distinct, but often overlapping categories of conditions that can affect individuals and loved ones throughout their lives.

    • Developmental Disabilities:  These encompass a wide range of conditions that affect physical, cognitive, language, and social-emotional development. These disabilities typically originate before age 22 and can impact a person's daily functioning.
    • Intellectual Disabilities:  These specifically refer to limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior, which affect conceptual, social, and practical skills. While intellectual disabilities are a subset of developmental disabilities, not all developmental disabilities involve intellectual impairments.

    What are Some Common Developmental Disabilities?

    An education assistant supervises a young girl as she works on a colorful puzzle
    Image by Freepik

    The main types of developmental disabilities include autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

    • Autism Spectrum Disorder:  ASD affects communication, social interaction, and behavior. Individuals with ASD may have difficulty with social cues, repetitive behaviors, and sensory sensitivities.
    • Down Syndrome:  Down syndrome is a genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra chromosome 21. It is characterized by physical features such as slanted eyes, cognitive delays, and varying degrees of intellectual disability.
    • Cerebral Palsy:  CP is a group of neurological disorders that affect movement, muscle tone, and coordination. It is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain.
    • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder:  ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. While it is often diagnosed in childhood, symptoms may persist into adulthood.

    What are the Primary Risk Factors for Developmental Disabilities?

    Developmental stages of pregnancy from prenatal to postnatal
    Image by Freepik

    Several risk factors can increase the odds. While some are avoidable, many are the result of hereditary influences.

    • Genetic Factors:  Many developmental disabilities have a genetic component, meaning they can be passed down from parents to children. Genetic mutations, chromosomal abnormalities, and inherited conditions can increase the risk of developmental disabilities.
    • Prenatal Factors:  Certain pre-birth factors, such as maternal infections, exposure to toxins, substance abuse, and inadequate prenatal care, can increase the risk of developmental disabilities. One of the most commonly known of this type is fetal alcohol disorder.
    • Perinatal Factors:  Complications during childbirth, premature birth, low birth weight, and oxygen deprivation can contribute to developmental disabilities.
    • Postnatal Factors:  Environmental factors, such as exposure to lead or other toxins, traumatic brain injuries, and infections during infancy or early childhood, can also impact development.

    What Training Can Help Children with Developmental Disabilities Thrive?

    The specialization of left brain vs right brain functions
    Image by Freepik

    Children with developmental disabilities still have a great capacity for learning and growth, they just typically require different teaching methods and extra attention.

    • Early Intervention Services:  Early intervention programs provide support and services to infants and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities. These services may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and developmental screenings.
    • Special Education Programs:  Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are tailored plans designed to meet the unique needs of students with disabilities. These programs may include accommodations, modifications, and specialized instruction to support academic, social, and emotional growth.
    • Applied Behavior Analysis:  ABA is a therapeutic approach that focuses on improving specific behaviors through positive reinforcement and systematic intervention. It is commonly used to address behavioral challenges associated with developmental disabilities, such as communication difficulties and social skills deficits.
    • Parent Training and Support:  Providing parents and caregivers with training, resources, and support can empower them to better advocate for their child and implement effective strategies at home. Parent support groups, workshops, and online resources can offer valuable guidance and encouragement.
    • Educational SupportEducation Assistants and Early Childhood Assistants often provide invaluable support when ensuring inclusion for children who require additional assistance or have special educational needs.


    Developmental disabilities present unique challenges, but with awareness, understanding, and support, individuals with developmental disabilities can lead fulfilling and meaningful lives. By addressing common questions, advocating for inclusive policies, and promoting access to resources and services, we can create a more inclusive and supportive society for everyone.

    If you want to make a profound difference in the formative years for children with unique educational needs, ABM College offers two diploma programs with comprehensive training and extensive hands-on experience during practicum. Our popular online Education Assistant Diploma is available for students across Canada for those who enjoy the flexibility of online learning. For those in the Toronto area who prefer a traditional classroom-based experience, we offer on-site Early Childhood Assistant Diploma at Toronto Campus which adheres to the most recent NACC guidelines.

    Contact us today to learn more, and you can check out more exciting industry blogs right here.

    A student writing on their notebook.

    Free College
    Information Kit

    Get started on the road to becoming an ABM College graduate today with our free information kit. In it, you will learn about all of the exciting programs we offer, our philosophy, information about our campuses, and lots more.

    Note: For students requiring a study permit, please see our International Students form here.

    Thank you! Your submission has been received!
    Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.