In Massachusetts, the Department services and supports for children with developmental disabilities operate within rules and regulations that are not always easy to understand. We strive to provide individuals and families with clear information on regulations, policies, specialized services and supports, and community resources in a manner that is responsive to diverse cultural groups. The Spectrum of Services is written to help you understand what specialized services and supports are and how these services can work for your child.

Who Do We Serve?

Currently, the Department is serving more than 8600 children with developmental disabilities and their families. A child is a person who is younger than 18 years of age and is determined eligible for services and supports provided, purchased or arranged by the Department if he or she,

  • Is domiciled in Massachusetts; and,
  • Has intellectual disability*, or a closely related developmental condition, or a developmental delay if under the age of five; and,
  • Demonstrates severe functional impairments as defined in DDS regulations, 115 CMR 2.01.

*Intellectual disability is synonymous in definition with mental retardation.

Generally, a child is considered to be domiciled in Massachusetts if one or both parents reside and intend to remain in Massachusetts permanently or for an indefinite period of time, unless the parent with sole custody is not domiciled in Massachusetts.

How to Apply for Services

To apply for our services, you must complete the Application for Eligibility Form. Application forms are available at area offices, regional offices and on this website. You can fax or mail the completed application to the regional eligibility team that covers the geographical area where you live.

You can expect to be contacted by a Regional Eligibility Team member to schedule a face-to-face meeting to begin gathering the information needed to determine eligibility for our services. The meeting can take place at a departmental office, or a convenient location where an interview can occur.

You are responsible for providing the information requested by the Department to process your application. The information that you may be asked to provide include the following: (1) information about the applicant's functional abilities, (2) family information, (3) social security number, (4) insurance information, and (5) other legal documents such as guardianship decree, birth certificate, and immigration papers. In addition, you or your family member will be asked to give us permission to get records, such as, school records, psychological test reports and medical records that will be used by the Regional Eligibility Team in making a decision. The Regional Eligibility Team can help you get information but you have the responsibility and will be expected to actively participate in this process.

Generally, a written decision will be sent to you 60 days after the Eligibility Team receives a completed Application for Eligibility Form. There are three types of eligibility determinations: eligible, ineligible and deferral of eligibility determination. If you are found eligible, you will be given the name of the area office that will be responsible for your service planning and prioritization. If you are found ineligible, you will be given information about your appeal rights. If we are unable to render a decision, you will be told as to what additional information is needed to complete the eligibility process.

What Services are Available

The Department offers service coordination and family support services to eligible children with developmental disabilities and their families. A description of these services is provided below.

Service Coordination

Service Coordination is provided by our staff that arranges, coordinates, and monitors the services and supports that the Department provides, purchases or arranges for an eligible child.

Family Support Services

Family Support Services consist of supplemental supports that can help a family to care for their family member at home. Types of family support services include individual and/or family education and training, support groups, family support coordination, supports planning, limited supports for community participation, outreach and education, and respite. For more information about Family Support Services, see our Family Support Guidelines.

Enhanced Family Support Services

Enhanced Family Support Services consist of 2 types of more comprehensive and intensive services. The Intensive Flexible Family Support Program is a time-limited, goal-oriented service for families experiencing severe stress that is causing the child to be at risk of an out-of-home placement. The Medically Fragile Family Partnership Program provides comprehensive wrap-around supports to families with children with significant cognitive, physical and complex health care needs.

Specialty Family Support Services

Specialty Family Support Services consist of the following types of supports:

  • The Family Leadership Series which is sponsored annually in different geographic areas of Massachusetts. It is organized into three, two-day workshops focusing on: initiative and leadership, creating a vision and policy-making at the local, state and federal level.
  • Autism Support Centers located throughout the Commonwealth. There are seven Department-funded Centers that provide information and referral resources on all five Pervasive Developmental Disorders. Each Center also holds support groups, has a lending library, produces a newsletter and provides various community programs.
  • After School Programs which focus on integrating children with disabilities into community programs and activities, such as, Girl and Boy Scouts, karate classes, and YMCA programs. After School supports helps the child to make friends, facilitate a child's sense of belonging, and foster a sense of self-esteem and growth.
  • Planned Facility-Based Respite which is a planned out-of-home respite service for children that provides short-term temporary relief to families caring for them at home. The program includes overnight, weekend and/or vacation stays, and a variety of recreational, social, cultural and/or educational activities.
  • Camp Programs which provide integrated summer day or overnight camping experiences for children and offer a variety of activities that include swimming, outdoor education, recreational games, challenge courses, and expressive art.

This information is provided by the Department of Developmental Services.