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Ask OKDHS - Developmental Disabilities Services Division

Q.  What is a developmental disability?
A.  The federal definition of “developmental disability” is a severe, chronic disability that:

  • Is a mental or physical impairment or both;
  • Occurs before the age of 22;
  • Is likely to continue indefinitely;
  • Limits the person’s ability to function; and
  • Reflects the person’s need for individualized services or assistance for a long period of time (sometimes the person’s entire life).

Examples of a developmental disability include: autism, Down syndrome, mental retardation, cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Oklahoma uses the federal definition and also adds that a person must have a primary diagnosis of intellectual disability (Intelligence Quotient (IQ) of 70 or below) to qualify for developmental disabilities services.

Q. What is an intellectual disability?
A. An intellectual disability (formerly referred to as mental retardation) is generally thought to be present if an individual has an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) score of approximately 70 or below. IQ scores are determined from standardized tests given by trained professionals.

Q. Why is there a waiting list to receive community services?
A. The federal government limits the amount of Medicaid funding available for community services. The limit is based on the amount of funding states themselves invest in the program. Because demand is greater than the funding our state has available, there is a request list (or “waiting list”) for services. As the economy improves, additional funding may again be available to expand waiver services. 

Q. How long is the waiting list? How long will I have to wait to receive services?
A. Currently there are more than six thousand Oklahomans on the “waiting list” to receive community-based services for developmental disabilities. Applications are worked in chronological order as they were received. Some people who are currently on the request list have been waiting as long as seven years for services. 

Q. How many people have intellectual or developmental disabilities?
A. Studies have shown that somewhere between one percent and three percent of Americans have  intellectual or developmental disabilities, depending on how they are counted. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how many people have intellectual disabilities because of the social stigma often attached to a medical diagnosis of mental retardation. Many parents and professionals throughout the U.S. report they do not use the label “mental retardation” because it can cause offense. For this reason, parents and advocates have lobbied states and the federal government to discontinue the use of the term “mental retardation” in laws and policy and use the more acceptable reference of intellectual or developmental disability.  

School-age children may receive a diagnosis of learning disability, developmental delay, behavior disorder, or autism instead of mental retardation. Many adults who have developmental disabilities live independent, productive lives and avoid all labels. Their success and their lack of functional limitations may mean that they are not included in studies that count the number of adults who have intellectual or developmental disabilities. 

Q. What is the difference between intellectual disability and mental illness?
A. An intellectual disability  is not mental illness. Intellectual disability refers to a person’s capability to think and reason. Mental illness is an emotional disturbance. Like anyone else, a person with an intellectual disability may become emotionally disturbed or mentally ill, but they are separate conditions.  

Q. How do developmental and intellectual disabilities affect individuals?
A. The effects of these disabilities vary among people who have them, just as the range of abilities varies among all people. Children may take longer to learn to speak, walk and take care of their personal needs, such as dressing or eating. Students may take longer to learn their class work. As adults, many people will be able to lead independent lives in the community without paid supports. A small percentage will have serious, lifelong limitations in functioning. 

Q. Can education, training, and support help?
A. With early intervention and appropriate education, training and support, all people with developmental disabilities can lead satisfying lives in their communities. The end result is a better, more normal life for people who have the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else.

While people with intellectual and developmental disabilities may learn more slowly than other people, they have many of the same hopes, fears, joys, problems, and needs that others do. They have talents and abilities that should be developed through individualized education, job training, and specialized therapies such as physical, occupational and speech therapies. Support can also help. Support can come from family, friends and the community or from a service system such as the OKDHS Developmental Disabilities Services Division (DDSD). 

For more information about intellectual and developmental disabilities or available services, contact DDSD at (405) 521-3571 or toll free (866) 521-3571. 

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