Cognitive Disabilities

The term cognitive disabilities encompasses various intellectual or cognitive deficits, including intellectual disability (mental retardation), developmental delay, developmental disability, learning disabilities, and  conditions causing cognitive impairment such as acquired brain injuries or neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. 

The term developmental delay is used to identify children (typically infants, toddlers and preschool age children) with delays in meeting developmental milestones in one or more areas of development.

Types of Developmental Delays

  • Cognitive Skills
  • Communication
  • Social and Emotional Skills Functioning
  • Behavior
  • Fine and Gross Motor Skills

Students with developmental delays are eligible for special education services such as full evaluation,  an IEP, specially designed instruction and related services.

The term developmental disability means a severe, chronic disability of an individual 5 years of age or older that:

  • is attributable to a mental or physical impairment or combination of mental and physical impairments;
  • is manifested before the individual attains age 22;
  • is likely to continue indefinitely;
  • 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; and
  • reflects the individual’s need for a combination and sequence of special, interdisciplinary, or generic services, supports, or other assistance that is of lifelong or extended duration and is individually planned and coordinated, except that such term, when applied to infants and young children means individuals from birth to age 5, 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.

* As defined by the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 1994.

There are many social, environmental and physical causes of developmental disabilities. 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 (prenatal, perinatal, or postnatal)
  • Genetic and chromosomal abnormalities
  • Premature birth
  • Poor maternal diet
  • Drug or alcohol abuse during pregnancy
  • Drug-related prenatal developmental insult from prescription or over-the-counter drugs

Children with intellectual disabilities (mental retardation) learn more slowly than a typical child. They may take longer to learn language, develop social skills, and take care of personal needs, such as dressing or eating. Children with intellectual disabilities may exhibit some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Delays in oral language development
  • Deficits in memory skills
  • Difficulty learning social rules
  • Difficulty with problem solving skills
  • Delays in the development of adaptive behaviors such as self-help or self-care skills
  • Lack of social inhibitors

An individual is considered to have mental retardation based on the following three criteria:

  • intellectual functioning level (IQ) is below 70
  • significant limitations exist in two or more adaptive skill areas
  • the condition is present from childhood (defined as age 18 or less)

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