Department of Developmental Services (DDS)

Information about DDS services, eligibility, and the application process.

The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) offers services and supports for individuals with intellectual disabilities and children with developmental disabilities.  DDS offers residential supports, services for families, respite care, and transportation services.  DDS provides some of these services directly, and others are available from providers in the community. 

Who DDS Serves

DDS serves children and youth between the ages of 0-22.  In order to receive services from DDS, the child’s parent or legal guardian must live in Massachusetts.  Emancipated youth may also apply.

There are different eligibility requirements depending on the age of the child.  For children between the ages of 0-4, the child must have a serious developmental delay or a condition that will likely cause a development disability if the child does not receive services.  Examples of these kinds of conditions include Fragile X syndrome or Rett Syndrome.

For children and youth between the ages of 5-22, DDS requires that the child have a “severe, chronic disability” due to one of these types of conditions:

  • Intellectual disability
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Smith-Magenis Syndrome
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome

DDS also serves children and youth that have an intellectual disability or other condition that results in “substantial functional limitations.”  This means that the child/youth has difficulty with certain everyday activities, such as learning, mobility, expressing themselves with language, understanding language, and taking care of themselves.  Examples of conditions that might cause these kinds of challenges are:

  • Williams Syndrome
  • Down Syndrome
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Spina Bifida
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
  • Fragile X Syndrome

Types of DDS Services - No Application Required

There are three types of support centers that are free and open to all community members.  Families can access these centers without applying for DDS services.

Family Support Centers:  Family Support Centers provide information and referral services, support groups, trainings for families, parent networking and mentoring opportunities, and social events.  These centers also help families navigate the service system for children and youth with disabilities. There are 35 Family Support Centers in the state, and their locations are listed here.

Autism Support Centers:  Autism Support Centers provide resources and support for children and young adults with autism spectrum disorders.  Like the Family Support Centers, these centers offer information and referrals, support groups, family trainings, parent networking and mentoring opportunities, and social events.   Autism Support Centers also provide family clinics.  There are eight Autism Support Centers in the state, and their locations can be found here.

Cultural/Linguistic Specific Centers:  These centers offer many of the same services as the Family Support Centers, but are designed to address the needs of certain cultural and linguistic family groups in different areas of the state.  These centers offer services in Vietnamese, Mandarin, Spanish, Haitian, and Khmer.  There are nine Cultural/Linguistic Specific Centers and their locations are listed here.

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Types of DDS Services - Application Required

Other types of services require that the child’s parent or legal guardian complete an application for DDS services.  These include:

Intensive Flexible Family Supports (IFFS): IFFS programs help families who are caring for a child in their home and are experiencing serious challenges as a result of the child/youth’s disability.  These challenges are not only causing severe stress for the family, but also leave the child at risk of needing an out-of- home placement.  IFFS provide case management services for families and flexible funding to help families purchase other items or services that the child may need.  The goals of IFFS are to ease the level of stress families are experiencing and to help them keep their child/youth in the home. 

Medically Complex Programs:  These programs support families who are caring for children or young adults in their home with serious cognitive, physical, and/or complex health care needs. Intensive case management services are provided, and there is flexible funding available to help the family buy other items or services that the child may need.  These programs are available for children and youth up to the age of 25.

Planned Facility Based Respite Program for Children:  This program offers planned, out-of-home respite services for children in the Central/West Region of the state. This program provides short-term temporary relief for families, and include overnight, weekend, and/or vacation stays. Children/youth are provided with recreational, social, cultural and/or educational activities during their stay.

Family Leadership Development:  These programs provide education, mentoring and support to families. Families learn information about “best practices” in caring for children and youth with disabilities, and they also learn about policy making at the local and state level.  The goal of Family Leadership Development is to prepare family members to take leadership roles in their local community and the disability community. These trainings are developed by family members who have a child or adult family member with a disability. 

Community Residential Education Program: This program is a partnership between DDS and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).  It provides additional supports to children and young adults to prevent them from being placed in a more restrictive educational environment or in an out-of-home placement.  This program also assists families whose children are coming out of a residential placement as they transition back into the community.

Applying for DDS Services

To apply for DDS services, the parent/legal guardian must fill out an application form.  There are two types of DDS application forms: one is for children under five, and the other is for children and youth between 5-22 years of age.   Both of these forms are also available in Spanish.

No matter the age of the child, DDS requires that copies of the following documents are included with the application:

  • The child’s birth certificate
  • The child’s Social Security card
  • Health insurance cards
  • Proof that the parent/legal guardian lives in Massachusetts, such as a Massachusetts driver’s license or ID card.  Parents/legal guardians can also submit a utility bill with their name and address on it.
  • Reports that describe the child’s diagnosis

Also, if the child has any of the following documents, DDS requests that the parent/legal guardian submit copies with their application:

  • Early Intervention/Developmental Profile
  • Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and/or a 504 Accommodation Plan
  • Adaptive Skills Reports
  • Report with a diagnosis of an Intellectual Disability or Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Reports of IQ
  • Genetic testing results

Once the application is complete, the application should be submitted to the family’s DDS regional office.  Parents/guardians can find their regional office in the application packet.

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What Happens Next

After the complete application form is submitted with all of the required documents, the DDS regional office can take up to 60 days to inform the parent/legal guardian if their child/youth is eligible for services.

If the child is eligible for services, the decision letter will include information about the DDS area office that will work with the family.  A Children’s Service Coordinator from the area office will contact the family and work with them to begin developing a Family Support Plan for the child. 

If the parent/guardian receives a decision letter that says “deferral of eligibility determination,” this means that the DDS regional office did not receive enough information to make a decision.  The letter will tell the parent/legal guardian which documents are still needed, and DDS will give them an extra 60 days to collect and submit the requested documents. 

If the child is not eligible for services, the parent/legal guardian can appeal the decision. First, within 30 days, the parent/guardian must send a letter to the Regional Director of their regional office to ask for an appeal.  Next, the parent/guardian will have an informal meeting with the Regional Director or another DDS staff member to discuss the eligibility issues, and the parent/guardian can ask DDS to reconsider their decision.  If the issues cannot be resolved during this meeting, then the parent/legal guardian can request a fair hearing. 

At a fair hearing, an impartial hearing officer will hear the family’s case about the child/youth’s eligibility and make a decision based on evidence from both the family and from DDS.  The fair hearing officer will make a decision about the child/youth’s eligibility and send it to the Commissioner of DDS.  The final eligibility decision is up to the Commissioner.  Families will receive a final decision no more than 45 days after the fair hearing. 

Additional Resources

The Arc Massachusetts:  The Arc Massachusetts offers a variety of programs and services to children and families in Massachusetts. These include providing helping families find appropriate services for their child, webinars on topics related to development and intellectual disabilities, and other resources for parents.  The Arc also does education and advocacy on policy matters that affect people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.  To contact The Arc, call (781)-891-6270.

Autism Speaks MA:  Autism Speaks MA offers information about services for children and youth 0-22 years old.  These resources include information on after school programs, parent training, early intervention programs, and transition to adult services.  

SPED Child and Teen Massachusetts:  SPED Child and Teen compiles events and opportunities for children with special needs, including adaptive sports, dance classes, and other types of social and recreational events.  There are also social and educational opportunities for parents and caretakers.   

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