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Twenty-six (26) years ago, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month to help increase the awareness of the needs and potential of Americans with Developmental Disabilities. In those 26 years, there have been many positive steps in the way supports are provided and meaningful inclusion in the community. But there is more to be done. One of the most basic elements to increasing awareness is to understand what a developmental disability is and what it isn’t. A developmental disability is not contagious. It does not cause violence or criminal behavior. It is not embarrassing or shameful.
There are three key features that distinguish a developmental disability from other types of disabilities: The diagnosis must be made prior to age 22 (the developmental years), the condition must be expected to continue indefinitely and it must impact at least two major life areas (such as self-care, mobility or communication). There are many diagnoses that are considered developmental disabilities. Examples are Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Autism, Muscular Dystrophy, Traumatic Brain Injury and Spina Bifida.
A developmental disability cannot be anything that happens after a person’s 22nd birthday nor can it be those with a primary diagnosis of a mental illness. (Examples of mental illness are Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Depression or Anxiety Disorder – these are NOT developmental disabilities.)
Someone with a developmental disability may have difficulty doing the things others take for granted like getting dressed, learning something new or communicating how they feel. But those things don’t make someone incapable of leading a rich, full life. Someone with a developmental disability can be a good employee, a good neighbor and a good friend.
Each week in March, there will be an article intended to raise awareness about developmental disabilities. If you have a developmental disability or know someone who might and you don’t know where to start looking for help, contact Jim Ruedin at Community Opportunities for more information. His number is 636-462-7695.