Tracking Developmental Disabilities and the Environment

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Developmental Disabilities

On the first Monday in October, celebrate National Child Health Day – which the President of the United States has proclaimed every year since 1928. NCEH’s Environmental Health Tracking Branch provides valuable data on children’s health by tracking developmental disabilities and other children’s environmental health issues.

Developmental Disabilities

Did you know that environmental factors can affect and contribute to developmental disabilities? The most commonly known causes of developmental disabilities are genetic and social, but increasing evidence suggests environmental contaminants may also play a part in causing some developmental disabilities.

In the United States, about 1 in 6 children have a developmental disability, and that number is increasing. A recent study by CDC and the Health Resources and Services Administration indicates that 1.8 million more children were born with a developmental disability in 2006-2008 than 1996-1998. Scientists are currently researching ways to better understand developmental disabilities, including how to prevent and treat them, and how the environment may cause them.

While genetics, social factors, and the environment may contribute to developmental disabilities, the specific cause of most developmental disabilities is unknown. In addition, some developmental disabilities cannot be prevented because they are only caused by genetic factors, which cannot be controlled or changed.

Tracking Developmental Disabilities

Developmental Disabilities

CDC’s National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network (Tracking Network) is working to compile and analyze data related to developmental disabilities. While no nation-wide system actively tracks all developmental disabilities, the Tracking Network includes two of the largest developmental disabilities data sources:

  • CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, and
  • Department of Education’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) data.

The ADDM Network provides the number of existing cases of autism spectrum disorders in a defined population. The IDEA data provides information on children receiving government services but does not take into account the general population or all children with disabilities. While the current surveillance systems do not capture all cases of developmental disabilities, they are the best data available.

The Tracking Network currently includes data for seven developmental disabilities:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)
  • Developmental Delay
  • Emotional Disturbance
  • Hearing Impairment or Hearing Loss
  • Intellectual Disabilities (formerly Mental Retardation)
  • Speech or Language Impairment
  • Specific Learning Disability

You can access all of this data and more information about developmental disabilities through the Tracking Network.

Children’s Environmental Health

Developmental disabilities are not the only possible outcome of childhood exposure to environmental contaminants. The Tracking Network has resources for other children’s environmental health topics including:

  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Lead poisoning

In the Children’s Environmental Health module, the Tracking Network outlines available data about these childhood conditions along with strategies for prevention. For more environmental and health data, along with tips for preventing exposure to environmental hazards, visit the Tracking Network. You can also view the Tracking Network’s children’s environmental health infographic.

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Page last reviewed: October 6, 2015
Page last updated: October 6, 2015