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Five Ways to Recognize Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

March 6th, 2013

By Marion M. Walsh, Esq.

March represents Developmental Disabilities Awareness month. According to the Center for Disease Control, the prevalence of developmental disabilities, in the past twelve years, has increased.

The term Developmental Disabilities encompasses a diverse group of severe chronic conditions that are due to mental and/or physical impairments. People with developmental disabilities have problems with major life activities such as language, mobility, learning, self-help, and independent living.  Developmental disabilities can begin anytime during development up to 22 years of age and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.  Diagnoses include ADHD, Autism, Developmental delays, Learning disabilities, Cerebral Palsy, and many other disabilities.

Approximately 1 in 6 children in the United States has a developmental disability. Indeed, the prevalence has increased 17.1% from 1997 to 2008. The prevalence of autism has increased an astounding 289.5% in this time period.   Clearly, this data shows the increasing need for awareness, health, education and social services for people with developmental disabilities. Future research should focus on understanding the genetic and environmental causes, the known risk factors and the benefits of early intervention and school and home services.

Developmental disabilities can affect anyone. The conditions affect all socioeconomic groups and all regions of the United States. Males face greater risks and had twice the prevalence of any developmental disabilities than females and more specifically had higher prevalence of ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, stuttering/stammering and other disabilities.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, first codified in 1975 as the Education for All Handicapped Act, guarantees to every child with a disability a free appropriate public education.   Congress enacted the IDEA with the highest priority for students with the most profound disabling conditions. Every public school district in the United States must abide by this mandate to identify and serve students with disabilities.

Here are five ways you can recognize Developmental Disabilities month:

  1. Advocate for a Child. With 1 in 6 children having a developmental disability, chances are, everyone knows a child with a developmental disability.  Speak up for a child you know and do not be afraid to help a struggling parent.  Whether the child is your own, a relative or a good friend, take the time to explain to those who can make a difference.   Most children with these types of disabilities cannot advocate for themselves and need a strong voice and someone in their corner.   In most cases, school districts want to help and do the right thing but may not fully understand a child’s needs or believe that meager services are appropriate.
  2. Use the Right Language. Before speaking about children with developmental disabilities, please use the right language.   While seemingly a small step, language defines us and makes a difference.   In the regard, this Wednesday represents   “Spread the Word to End the Word” Day to expunge the word “retarded: from our vocabulary. Use the term intellectual disability, not the R word.   New York State has in fact changed its definition of classification categories from MR to intellectual disability. Also, when describing people with disabilities generally, use the condition after the person, to indicate that the individual comes first (Child with autism, not autistic child; child with deafness, not a deaf child).  Use the term emotional disability, not emotional disturbance.
  3. Volunteer. Many groups in your area offer help and services to children with developmental disability.  Most need help and volunteering makes a difference.
  4. Offer Support and Understanding to Someone Struggling.  Sometimes people are afraid to say anything to cause embarrassment to a parent of a child with a disability who is struggling. Offering support in a general sense is always helpful.
  5. Don’t Judge Others. On the other hand, offering judgmental words for parents is not helpful. If you see a child acting out in a public place, do not always assume parents or the child have control.

For more information about special education advocacy and special needs planning, visit www.specialneedsnewyork.com.

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