Preventing Disability

Preventing Disability happens at three levels: Primary Prevention is preventing the disability from occurring. For example, wearing a seatbelt to prevent brain injury during a motor vehicle accident. Secondary prevention is detecting a disability early and intervening to slow or stop its progression. For example, identifying a brain injury and immediately getting medical care. Tertiary prevention is interventions that stop or slow the progression of a disability to mitigate its negative consequences. For example, by using therapy and treatments that support recovery from brain injury. Our goal is to stop disability before it happens and minimize the negative consequences if we cannot.

What is a Developmental Disability?

Developmental disability is an umbrella term that refers to many disabilities. For ODPC, statute defines a developmental disability as a severe, chronic disability that:

  • Is a mental or physical impairment, or both
  • Manifested before a person reaches the age of 22
  • Will likely continue indefinitely
  • Results in substantial limitations in three or more major life activities:
  • Self-care
  • Receptive and expressive language
  • Learning, mobility, self-direction
  • Capacity for independent living and economic sufficiency
  • Requires a combination of special interdisciplinary or generic care, treatment, or other lifelong or extended services

Research has helped us identify the cause of about two-thirds of all developmental disabilities. While some disabilities are genetic and unpreventable, other disabilities can be completely prevented.

Which Developmental Disabilities are Preventable?

Many developmental disabilities are preventable, including:

  • Brain injuries
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, including fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Neural tube defects
  • Other physical or intellectual disabilities

There are a number of different preventable factors that increase the risk of or can cause a developmental disability:

  • Prenatal exposure to alcohol, tobacco or other substance, including prescription medications
  • Prenatal exposure to certain toxins and heavy metals
  • Maternal folic acid (vitamin B) deficiency during pregnancy
  • Maternal obesity or unmanaged maternal diabetes during pregnancy
  • Maternal infection during pregnancy
  • Premature birth and low birth weight
  • Delivery complications

Risk factors and causes that occur during infancy and childhood:

  • Unaddressed health conditions like severe jaundice or congenital hypothyroidism
  • Falls
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Abuse or assault
  • Being struck by or against something
  • Infection
  • Near drowning

Levels of Prevention

Primary prevention aims to stop the disability from happening. For example:

  • Wearing a seatbelt to prevent brain injury during a motor vehicle accident
  • Abstaining from drinking alcohol during pregnancy to prevent fetal alcohol spectrum disorders

Secondary prevention is identifying the disability in its earliest stages and intervening to slow or stop its progression. For example:

  • Knowing the signs and symptoms of a brain injury to identify a brain injury and immediately getting medical care
  • Monitoring a child’s development to detect delays and seek help immediately so they get the supports they need to develop skills and functions for their age

Tertiary prevention includes interventions to stop or slow the progression of a disability to mitigate its negative consequences and prevent secondary conditions. For example:

  • Therapies and treatments that support a child’s development and health needs
  • Adaptive aids that empower a child to find ways to work around their disability