The first university based entities for individuals with developmental disabilities were first authorized in Title 1, Part B of Public Law 88-164. This Act was signed into law on October 31, 1963, by President John F. Kennedy, just 22 days before he was assassinated. The signing of Public Law 88-164, along with Public Law 88-156 signed seven says earlier, represented the initial legislation intended to implement the recommendations of the President's Panel on Mental Retardation.

Prior to signing this act, President Kennedy created the first President's Panel on Mental Retardation. The President's Panel authored a report that was among the most comprehensive, multifaceted, and well researched documents in the disability field. The concept of these university based facilities for people with developmental disabilities came from the recommendations addressed in the Panel's report. The concept of additional support for higher education in the field of disabilities was stimulated by the possibility of federal funds for campus facilities to conduct research and provide training and clinical services.

Currently, AUCD represents 67 UCEDDs across the country with at least one center found in every state and territory in the U.S. Each UCEDD is affiliated with a major research university. AUCD also has established 43 Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) programs, and 15 Eunice Kennedy Shriver Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Centers (IDDRC) which serve to meet the needs established in the original President's Panel on Mental Retardation.