Disabilities in Early Childhood: A Global Health Perspective

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by Bolajoko O. Olusanya 1,*,Claudine Storbeck 2, Vivian G. Cheung 3 and Mijna Hadders-Algra 4 on behalf of the Global Research on Developmental Disabilities Collaborators (GRDDC)

1 Centre for Healthy Start Initiative, 286A Corporation Drive, Dolphin Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos 101223, Nigeria

2 Centre for Deaf Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg 999136, South Africa

3 Department of Pediatrics and Life Sciences Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA

4 University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Developmental Neurology and University of Groningen, Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, 9712 CP Groningen, The Netherlands


Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.

Children 202310(1), 155; https://doi.org/10.3390/children10010155

Received: 15 December 2022 / Revised: 3 January 2023 / Accepted: 9 January 2023 / Published: 12 January 2023

(This article belongs to the Special Issue Family-Centred Interventions for Children with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses: Practice-Based Evidence)



Prior to the launch of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, childhood disability was rarely considered an important subject in global health. The SDGs till 2030 now require that children under 5 years who are at risk of not benefitting from inclusive quality education are identified, monitored, and promptly supported. A new tool for identifying children who are not developmentally on track has been developed by UNICEF but has limited sensitivity for detecting children with disabilities due to reliance on parental assessment of child behavior in certain everyday situations. In this paper, we identified conditions that are commonly associated with developmental disabilities based on the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes and clarified the concept of “developmentally on track” as it relates to children with developmental disabilities and developmental delays. We summarized the latest evidence on the global burden of developmental disabilities in children under 5 years based on the diagnostic and functional approaches for measuring disabilities at the population level. We highlighted the global health context for addressing the needs of children with developmental disabilities and provided an overview of the opportunities and the role of pediatric caregivers in supporting children with developmental disabilities.


developmental disabilitydevelopmental delayglobal healthearly interventionearly childhood developmentECDI2030sustainable development goals


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Key Area
early childhood development


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