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Developmental Disability Services in Florida

Baby playing in crib

"Developmental Disability" is a broad term that refers to a variety of conditions that interfere with a person's ability to function in everyday activities. Chapter 393, Florida Statutes, define developmental disabilities as spina bifida, autism, cerebral palsy, Prader-Willi syndrome and mental retardation. All the causes of developmental disabilities are not known. Most developmental disabilities are present at birth, but others may not be recognized and identified for several months. Disabilities challenge the people who have them because they can change the way people grow, learn and function.

The developmental disabilities identified in Florida law are:

  • SPINA BIFIDA: means divided backbone or spine. When a person has spina bifida, the spine and the cord inside the spine do not grow the way most spines grow. Normally, the spinal cord carries messages from the brain to other parts of the body, but when a person has spina bifida, the spinal cord does not carry all of the messages to the rest of the body.
  • AUTISM: is a condition characterized by impairment in social interactions and communication abilities and unusual or restricted ranges of play and interest. Autism results in social isolation and varying degrees of unusual behaviors.
  • CEREBRAL PALSY (CP): "Cerebral" means the brain. "Palsy" means moving of the muscles in a way that the person can't control. It refers to a group of motor disabilities that arise because of injury to the developing brain before or during birth or during the first year of life. These motor disabilities do not get worse over time. Cerebral palsy keeps the brain from telling the rest of the body some of the things it is supposed to do. It might be hard for a person with cerebral palsy to talk, walk, see, hear, sit, or swallow. A person with cerebral palsy might have a combination of these things. Despite significant motor impairment, many people with CP have normal intelligence.
  • MENTAL RETARDATION: refers to significant limitations in functioning related to subaverage intelligence. Mental retardation is caused by an injury, disease or abnormality of the brain that happens before the person is 18 years old. People who have mental retardation learn more slowly than other people and might need assistance in other areas like communication, self-care, self-direction, health and safety, leisure, work and functional academics.
  • PRADER-WILLI syndrome: is an inherited condition. A severe lack of muscle tone and failure to thrive are present in early infancy. Later on, excessive drive to eat usually leads to significant weight problems. Obsessive-compulsive behaviors and difficulty with social interactions are often present. People with Prader-Willi syndrome are usually short with small hands and feet. They typically are mildly mentally retarded.
  • HIGH RISK OF DEVELOPING A DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITY: It is not always easy to tell if a baby has a developmental disability. However, a child who does not crawl, walk, or talk at the same age as most other children may be considered a child with a developmental disability. In Florida, children from birth to five years of age who are at high risk of developing a developmental disability may receive services from the following agencies: The Department of Health, Division of Children's Medical Services serves children from birth through three years of age. The Department of Children and Families, Developmental Disabilities Program serves children in the high risk category who are ages four and five.

To find out more about Developmental Disabilities, please visit these sites:

Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD)

Chapter 393

Family Care Councils

When & where can a person apply for services?

People who have or might have a developmental disability may apply for services at any time to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities in the district/region where the potential applicant lives. Concerned relatives, friends or others may apply on behalf of a person that they believe has a developmental disability. For more information click here.

How can you learn more about the Agency for Persons with Disabilities?

Write to the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities at:

4030 Esplanade Way, Suite 380
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0950

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