CODI: Cornucopia of Disability Information

New Jersey Developmental Disabilities Council: Introduction

A DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITY is a severe, disabling condition that arises in infancy or childhood; persists indefinitely; and causes serious problems in language, learning, mobility and the capacity for independent living. Some disabilities such as Epilepsy, Cerebral Palsy, Head Injury, Spina Bifida, Autism or Cognitive disabilities often result from damage to the brain structure or functioning. New Jersey was one of the first states to adopt a functional definition of developmental disabilities. That is, a person with substantial difficulties in at least three of the following areas: self-care, understanding and use of language, learning, mobility, self-direction, capacity for independent living, and economic self-sufficiency. Under the functional definition, a person with cerebral palsy, for example, is not considered developmentally disabledunless the chronic condition affects major areas of his or her life.

Specific Developmental Disabilities

AUTISM is a lifelong developmental disability that is recognized and diagnosed before age 3. Common symptoms in adults and children usually include impaired language acquisition andcomprehension; uneven development in physical, mental and social skills; difficulty relating to people, objects or events; lack of play skills and abnormal sensory responses. Current research indicates that autism is caused by a biochemical or neurological disturbance.

CEREBRAL PALSY is a condition caused by damage to the brain during pregnancy or labor, or shortly after birth. Cerebral refers to the brain and palsy refers to the disorder of movement or posture. It is neither progressive nor communicable. Nor is it curable, in the accepted sense of the term, although training and therapy can help. It is estimated that nearly 3,000 infants are born each year with cerebralpalsy.

EPILEPSY is a chronic disorder of the brain characterized by recurrent seizures. Seizures are sudden, uncontrolled episodes of excessive electrical charges of the brain cells with associated sensory, motor and or behavioral changes. There are 30 different types of seizures; the most common are classified as either partial or generalized. It is estimated that approximately 125,000 New Jerseyans have epilepsy.

HEAD INJURY is the leading killer and cause of disabilities in children and young adults. Trauma is an insult to the brain that may produce a diminished or altered state of consciousness, which results in impaired cognitive abilities orphysicalfunctioning andmay disturbbehavior or emotions. A head injury can occur at any time during or beyond a person's developmental period. The most common causes are vehicle accidents, child abuse, violent crimes and falls.

COGNITIVE DISABILITIES are characterized by development at a below average rate. People with cognitive disabilities usually have difficulty in learning, social adjustment and economic productivity. Cognitive disabilities are not to be confused with mental illness. Children with cognitive disabilities grow into adults with cognitive disabilities, and learn more slowly and with much greater difficulty. The most common causes include genetic irregularities, such as Down Syndrome and PKU; German Measles, low birth weight, or drug or alcohol use during pregnancy; and environmental factors, such as lead poisoning and other health hazards.

SPINA BIFIDA is a serious birth defect of the central nervous system that occurs during the first month of pregnancy. When the neural tube fails to properly close, the spinal cord may protrude, sending insufficient nerve fibers to some of the muscles. These malformations of the vertebrae and spinal cord cause disturbances in the urological, orthopedic and neurological systems. Thecause of Spina Bifida is still unknown, but it is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and envirorlmental factors.

Developmental Disabilities Services

Services for people with developmental disabilities are provided through a complex and somewhat fragmented configuration of government and private agencies. The Federal government distributes funds to the states for planning, research, training and direct services. The states determine the needs of their citizens with developmental disabilities and plan services accordingly. New Jersey provides services through approximately 30 different agencies within several separate departments of state government. Each agency is subject to its own department's rules, procedures and budgets. The Departments of Human Services, Health, Education, Labor and Community Affairs all contain elements that address the needs of people with developmental disabilities. The Division of Developmental Disabilities in the New Jersey Department of Human Services is the lead provider of community services for people with developmental disabilities and their families. The division provides case management, and funds private agencies for such services as supervised housing, supported employment, respite care and day programs. Located throughout New Jersey are private agencies, some under contract with the various departments of state government, that provide direct services or products. These agencies also may be subject to different age, disability or funding requirements. According to Access to Information, a 1993 report published by the New Jersey Developmental Disabilities Council, while most individuals with developmental disabilities and their families depend on this complex system of services to improve the quality of their lives, their biggest problem is finding them.

The RESOURCES DIRECTORY

The RESOURCES DIRECTORY is organized into two parts. The first is a directory in the traditional sense, with names, addresses and phone numbers of state, county and private agencies. The second provides some navigation through the major segments of New Jersey's developmental disabilities service system: Health Care, Early Intervention, Education, Employment & Training, and Community Living & Family Support.

The RESOURCES DATABASE

The RESOURCES DATABASE (formerly known as SCRIP: the Statewide Computerized Referral and Information Program) contains information on more than 1700 agencies, cross-referenced by services, target populations and location. Anyone can request information by calling 1-800-792-8858, between 9:30 AM and 4:30 PM, Monday through Friday. An information specialist will ask for the type of service you are seeking, the county or counties where the service is needed and some general information about the individual needing services. A computer printout will be sent, via mail or fax, with details about the providers of the services you requested. Use the RESOURCES DIRECTORY for quick references and for understanding more about the service system. Call the RESOURCES DATABASE to zero in on specific services in specific geographic areas.