All About Developmental Disabilities

We are lucky enough to live in a world full of unique people of every ability. We ALL have a story and the more we learn about each other’s stories, the stronger we become as a whole. Take a moment to explore these FAQs about developmental disabilities and challenge your knowledge about the diverse abilities in your community!

What is a developmental disability?

A developmental disability is a diverse group of conditions due to mental or physical delays that may effect language, mobility, learning or independent living. A person’s developmental disability is just one of the many facets that make that person who they are. It may influence the style in which a person learns or the way they interpret their surroundings but it’s never an inability to achieve a goal. Rather, it’s just the various paths we all take to get to the same destination!

Did you know?
  • According to the US Census Bureau, around 19% of people in the US have a disability
  • According to the CDC, 1 in 6 children aged three through 17 have a disability
  • Common disabilities include: Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, visual or auditory impairments, ADHD, intellectual disabilities and other developmental delays 

Many individuals with developmental disabilities live independent lives and are major assets to their communities. Look at Jacob, for instance, a person who takes pride in his job in the community and values the deep connections he shares with his friends. Or Brad, who betters his community by volunteering while also taking up karate.

How is a developmental disability determined?

There are some common assessments used to diagnose a developmental disability, however, keep in mind: just like no two people are the same, no two disabilities are the same! The way each person experiences their disability is different from person to person.

Diagnosis and eligibility for supports and services go hand in hand. Eligibility is based on a number of factors, assessments or evaluations that are specific to a person’s age. Ages are broken down into three groups.

  • Ages birth to 6
  • Ages 6 to 15
  • Ages 16+

Click here to learn more about eligibility

What supports are available for a person with a developmental disability?

There are countless supports for a person with a developmental disability from natural supports to personalized services connected through your county board. Check out some different supports for different ages below.

Little Ones

With every destination, there is nothing more important than that first step! For little ones, County Boards like Summit DD offer Early Intervention (EI). EI is one of the most beneficial actions a family can take to help their child reach developmental milestones. EI is based on a teaching philosophy, where Developmental Specialists give families the essential tools they need to be the best teacher to advocate for their child’s growth and development. This ensures that even when specialists and therapists are not around, the learning never stops!


Once the kiddos get a little older, they get support from their local school and natural supports from their classmates and families. Keep in mind, County Boards also offer school-age support, providing resources and offering solutions to families wherever they need it, often times assisting parents with their IEP, or Individualized Education Plan.


Adults work with their county board SSAs, or Service and Support Administrators, to create right-fit supports so each individual can determine their own path and work toward the aspirations they have for their life.

What are right-fit supports?

At some point we all come to crossroads in our lives. Where should I work? Live? What are the dreams I have for my life? Every person takes their own path. That’s why different supports come together to address every person’s individual desires. Modern thinking about developmental disabilities utilizes the importance of “tailored supports” or “right-fit supports.”

Maybe you want community employment? Summit DD can connect you to a job coach and find employers in the community that would be the right fit for your strengths and personality. Maybe you want to live independently? OK great, let’s work with residential providers to find a place in your community. We help identify the supports they offer and even who could be a good fit for a roommate. Individuals set the goals, and the SSAs coordinate the resources to get there.

These right-fits supports all fall under one plan. Check out our ISP, or Individualized Service Plan to learn more.

What are natural supports?

Natural supports are simply unpaid supports that come from everyday people in your life like, family members, friends, teachers, coworkers or others who are close to you.


  • A daycare teacher giving a child extra assistance when needed
  • A neighbor carpooling to work with someone who is unable to drive
  • An employer explaining and demonstrating a job task individually to an employee who might benefit from extra guidance

Summit DD believes in working with our community partners and supplying them with the proper tools and knowledge so that anyone can act as a natural support. This creates inclusive environments everywhere in our communities!

What is inclusion and how can I make my community more inclusive?

Inclusion is the belief that people of EVERY ability should have the right to contribute to their community. Often, creating an inclusive environment can be done by making small, simple changes which can make a tremendous difference in the lives of those with and without disabilities. Use these tips to make your community more inclusive!

  • In classrooms, workplaces and public events move away from a “one-size fits all” approach. Think outside the box. How can I adjust my space or mentality to fit more than one ability level?
  • Make playgrounds and public areas accessible for people of all abilities.
  • Use person-first language. Making someone feel welcome can be as simple as using words that address them rather than their disability, which is only a small part of who they are.
  • Build relationships with the people around you. Seeing the person, rather than the disability opens your world to fun, creative and interesting people.
  • Reach out! There are countless people at your county board, like our CPI staff, who work exclusively to adapt an environment so that everyone can be successful! The benefit is not only for the person with a developmental disability but for the rest of the community as well. When we’re all given the opportunity to share our talents and strengths, the whole community becomes stronger.

Check out Joey’s story to find out what inclusion did for one little boy in Summit County!

How can I learn more?

The best way to learn about a developmental disability is to get to know someone who has one! Social media, blogs and community events are full of first-person narratives of self-advocates. Jump in and join the conversation, because when you ask questions and seek new perspectives the whole community benefits!

Check out these stories or visit our Facebook page for more!

Want to know more about available supports? Check out our Quick Start Guide!

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© Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board