Relation of Developmental Age to Service Eligibility

An individual’s developmental age should not be used to deny services or supports. Evidence from research has shown that all individuals can benefit from appropriate communication services to improve the effectiveness of their communication. People may incorrectly believe individuals have to demonstrate certain cognitive skills before they are be able to benefit from communication services. Communication and language develop from early infancy along with cognitive skills (Chapman, 2000). In fact, sometimes teaching new communication skills can help an individual develop other skills.

The use of "discrepancy" between measured cognitive and measured language levels is not an acceptable approach to eligibility decisions (Nelson, 2000). The relationship between language and cognition is neither simple nor static (Chapman, 2000). Tests that purport to assess either cognitive or language skills often measure the same fundamental skills. Individuals with disabilities whose cognitive and language skills were measured as equal nonetheless benefit from language intervention.

Bottom Line:

It is important to remember that communication is not just speech: All individuals can and do communicate from the moment of birth. There are many ways to communicate, such as facial expression, gesture, and use of aided augmentative and alternative communication.


Brady, N. C., Bruce, S., Goldman, A., Erickson, K., Mineo, B., Ogletree, B. T., Paul, D., Romski, M., Sevcik, R., Siegel, E., Schoonover, J., Snell, M., Sylvester, L., & Wilkinson, K. (2016). Communication services and supports for individuals with severe disabilities: Guidance for assessment and intervention. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 121(2), 121–138.

Chapman, R. S. (2000). Children’s language learning: An interactionist perspective. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41(1), 33–54.

National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities. (2002). Supporting documentation for the position statement on access to communication services and supports: Concerns regarding the application of restrictive “eligibility” policies. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 23(3), 143-151.

Nelson, N. W. (2000). Basing eligibility on discrepancy criteria: A bad idea whose time has passed. Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, 7(1), 8-12.


Return to the National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of Persons With Severe Disabilities (NJC) topic areas list.

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