Skip to main content

Developmental Disabilities Services: Frequently Asked Questions

Questions and Answers


What is a developmental disability?
According to the Developmental Disabilities Act (Pub.L.106-402), the term developmental disability means a severe, chronic disability that:

    • is attributable to a mental or physical impairment or a combination of those impairments;
    • occurs before the individual reaches age 22;
    • is likely to continue indefinitely;
    • results in substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following areas of major life activity: (i) self care, (ii) receptive and expressive language, (iii) learning, (iv) mobility, (v) self-direction, (vi) capacity for independent living, and (vii) economic self-sufficiency; and
    • reflects the individual’s need for a combination and sequence of special, interdisciplinary, or generic services, individualized supports, or other forms of assistance that are of lifelong or extended duration and are individually planned and coordinated.


The term “developmental disability” can include several types of conditions including, but not limited to: autism, Down syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy. Many states use different definitions for developmental disabilities based on the federal law.  Oklahoma uses the federal definition and also adds that a person must have a primary diagnosis of intellectual disabilities to be qualified for developmental disabilities services. 

What are intellectual disabilities?
Intellectual disabilities are generally thought to be present if an individual has an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test score of approximately 70 or below (AAMR, 2002). Intelligence refers to a general mental capability. It involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience. IQ scores are determined from standardized tests given by trained professionals. 

How many people are affected by intellectual disabilities?
Studies have shown that somewhere between 1 percent and 3 percent of Americans have intellectual disabilities, depending on how they are counted. Based on an IQ score alone, the percentages would be closer to 3 percent.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how many people have intellectual disabilities. Studies alone may not identify everyone. Many parents and professionals throughout the U.S. report they are aware the label “mental retardation” can bring offense, and for this reason they avoid its use; preferring instead, "intellectual disabilities".  Many school age children receive a diagnosis of learning disability, developmental delay, behavior disorder, or autism instead of intellectual disabilities.  Many adults who technically could be said to have intellectual 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 cognitive, intellectual or related developmental disabilities. (The Arc, 2004)

What is the difference between intellectual disability and mental illness?
Intellectual disability is not mental illness. Intellectual disability refers to a person’s capability to think and reason. Mental illness is an emotional disturbance. There may be one occurrence or several which can develop at any time in a person’s life. Like anyone else, a person with intellectual disabilities may become emotionally disturbed or mentally ill, but they are separate conditions. 

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

Can education, training, and support help?
While people with intellectual disabilities 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 enhance individual functioning. Support can come from family, friends and community or from a service system such as the DHS Developmental Disabilities Services. 

With early intervention as children and appropriate education, training, and supports as adults, 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.
For more information about developmental disabilities or available services, contact DDSD at (405) 521-6267 or toll free (866) 521-6267.

What is a Medicaid Waiver?

A waiver is a funding mechanism which allows the state to offer community-based services as an alternative to institutional services. The term waiver specifically refers to two elements of home and community-based services:

First, the state applies to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a special waiver or a special allowance from the services typically included in the State Medicaid Plan. This waiver allows the state to use Medicaid funds to provide alternative community supports for a targeted population who is at risk for institutionalization.

Second, the individuals served waive the institutional services for which they are eligible in order to receive community-based supports.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS), Developmental Disabilities Services (DDS) currently operates 4 waiver programs.

The Community Waiver, which provides community-based supports to people with intellectual disabilities.

Two In-Home support Waivers, 1 for children age 3-17 and one for adults. These capitated waivers provide supports to people with intellectual disabilities who live in their own home or family home.

The Homeward Bound Waiver was created to provide services and supports to the members of the Plaintiff Class of the Homeward Bound et al vs. The Hissom Memorial Center et al.  (The Hissom Memorial Center was one of DDSD's long-term care facilities prior to 1994).  This waiver program meets the stipulations set by the federal court for serving the individuals who lived at the center during a certain period of time. 

References:
The Arc, (Link opens in new window) Q&A, revised 2004.  

American Association on Mental Retardation. (2002). Mental Retardation: Definition, Classification, and Systems of Supports, 10th Edition. Washington, DC: American Association on Mental Retardation.

American Association on Mental Retardation (Link opens in new window). (2004). Fact Sheet: Frequently Asked Questions About Mental Retardation. 


Developmental Disabilities Assistance (Link opens in new window) and Bill of Rights Act of 2000.  PL 106-402. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Developmental Disabilities.

Back to Top