A Time to Learn
In honor of Developmental Disability Awareness Month, we will be exploring what exactly “developmental disability” is. How is it defined? What challenges does it pose? And why do we have the term in the first place? This is the first part of our ongoing series of blog posts that will be diving a bit deeper on individual types and classifications of disabilities. We hope these posts will serve as a resource to those who want to learn more. Or, if you’re already fully informed on all things “disability,” this can serve as a tool for you to educate others by sharing the blog directly or on social media.
Developmental disability is defined as originating at birth or during childhood, is expected to continue indefinitely, and substantially restricts the individual’s functioning in several major life activities. In short, developmental disability is something that you grow up with and will continue to be a part of your life for the foreseeable future. Mind you, this form of disability manifests in numerous ways – examples include Autism, Behavior disorders, Cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Fetal alcohol syndrome, Intellectual disability, Spina Bifida. This is perhaps the most important thing to note about developmental disability, it is a blanket term that encompasses many, often vastly different, types of disabilities. To think that all people with this classification of disability share the same experiences or challenges, would be a mistake.
What’s in a Name?
At this point, you may be thinking, “If the disabilities are so different, then why is the term ‘developmental disability’ even necessary?” It’s a good question, and one we’d like to answer. Part of the reasoning is for practical purposes. It allows our state organizations, such as the Division on Developmental Disability (DDD), to fund a wide variety of services that can be accessed by those who require them. These services include housing, employment training, transportation, certain therapies, and recreation programs. Since there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to assist everyone, the system is built in such a way that allows individuals to access those services they need most.
Another important reason this classification exists is for advocacy purposes. Often times, when you’re attempting to get a certain type of legislation passed or are lobbying for your civil rights, it pays to have more people stating your case rather than less. If people with developmental disabilities were to only represent their individual needs, they would find themselves outnumbered by a host of competing interests. However, if they were to approach their representatives as a group with a common goal, their voices are more likely to be heard. This is particularly true for those who either lack or have limited capacity to advocate for themselves.
One thing this group has in common is that they have all grown up with their disability as a part of their everyday life experience. For those who acquire a disability later in life, there can be a remembrance and understanding of what life was like before they became a person with a disability. Though this difference may not matter much in the grand scheme of things, it does sometimes pay to be sensitive to this concept.
If a person without a disability were to ask someone with a developmental disability to go for a “hike in the woods,” their picture of what that experience looks like could contain some important differences that should be considered when making plans. One person may be able to traverse different paths than another or specialized equipment may be required for an individual to fully participate in the hike. If this difference is not considered ahead of time, it could lead to an awkward encounter that could have easily been avoided.
But I Want to Know More!
Throughout the year, we will be exploring individual types of disabilities, but we hope this overview of developmental disability was helpful. We were only able to cover the broader concepts surrounding this topic, but if you’d like to dig a bit deeper, we encourage you to continue your search online. If you had any further thoughts or questions about developmental disabilities, please leave them in the comments below and we’ll hunt down the answers.
Thanks for reading!