Developmental Disabilities

What is a Developmental Disability?

The term developmental disability refers to a severe and chronic disability that is attributable to a mental or physical impairment. The disability must begin before the 18th birthday, be expected to continue indefinitely, and present a substantial disability. Also, the disability must be due to one of the following conditions:

  • Intellectual Disability
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • A disabling condition closely related to intellectual disability or requiring similar treatment.

To be eligible for services funded by the California Department of Developmental Services, individuals must have a developmental disability as defined in Section 4512 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code. Section 4512 defines developmental disability as:

“…a disability that originates before an individual attains age 18, continues, or can be expected to continue, indefinitely, and constitutes a substantial disability for that individual. As defined by the Director of Developmental Services, in consultation with the Superintendent of Public Instruction, this term shall include intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and autism. This term shall also include disabling conditions found to be closely related to intellectual disability or to require treatment similar to that required for individuals with an intellectual disability, but shall not include other handicapping conditions that are solely physical in nature.”
(Amended by Stats. 2014, Ch. 260, Sec. 1)

Infants and toddlers (age 0 to 36 months) who are at risk of becoming developmentally disabled or who have a developmental delay may also qualify for services. The criteria for determining the eligibility of infants and toddlers is specified in Section 95014 of the California Government Code:

“…The term “eligible infant or toddler” for the purposes of this title means infants and toddlers from birth through two years of age, for whom a need for early intervention services, as specified in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. Sec. 1431 et seq.) and applicable regulations, is documented by means of assessment and evaluation as required in Sections 95016 and 95018 and who meet one of the following criteria:

(1) Infants and toddlers with a developmental delay in one or more of the following five areas: cognitive development; physical and motor development, including vision and hearing; communication development; social or emotional development; or adaptive development. Developmentally delayed infants and toddlers are those who are determined to have a significant difference between the expected level of development for their age and their current level of functioning. This determination shall be made by qualified personnel who are recognized by, or part of, a multidisciplinary team, including the parents. A significant difference is defined as a 33-percent delay in one or more developmental areas.

(2) Infants and toddlers with established risk conditions, who are infants and toddlers with conditions of known etiology or conditions with established harmful developmental consequences. The conditions shall be diagnosed by a qualified personnel recognized by, or part of, a multidisciplinary team, including the parents. The condition shall be certified as having a high probability of leading to developmental delay if the delay is not evident at the time of diagnosis.

(3) Infants and toddlers who are at high risk of having substantial developmental disability due to a combination of biomedical risk factors, the presence of which is diagnosed by qualified personnel recognized by, or part of, a multidisciplinary team, including the parents.”
(Amended by Stats. 2014, Ch. 761, Sec. 2)

Developmental Disability/Regional Center Fact Sheet (PDF) – An effective and growing system, serving hundreds of thousands of individuals.
Hoja de Datos del Centro Regional/Discapacidad del Desarrollo (PDF) – Un sistema eficaz y en crecimiento, atendiendo a cientos y miles de personas.

The California Department of Developmental Services is the agency through which the State of California provides services and supports to individuals with developmental disabilities. The Department of Developmental Services is one of twelve departments and one board comprising the California Health and Human Services Agency. Services are provided through twenty-one nonprofit regional centers and state-operated developmental centers and community facilities. To learn more visit:

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