March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
SAN DIEGO, March 15, 2022– Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is a yearly reminder that it is my honor to serve persons with developmental disabilities through my company’s work for the last three decades. Much has thankfully changed for the better relative to anti-discrimination and other laws which protect those who may seem different.
We all must remember the progress we have made to treat those with developmental disabilities as unique and powerful people.
Bullying and those who have developmental disabilities
In early childhood, a playground fence divided classmates from those who were at that time called “retarded.” It would be difficult not to remember a little boy named Billy, a classmate at that time.
Billy was a lovely boy but had difficulty playing sports due to apparent challenges with coordination. It was painful to watch other, more capable boys jeer and make fun of him.
That type of bullying felt wrong to me, and my attempts to have young boys who were much stronger stop their thoughtless behavior was impossible. Though I recall finding our teacher who temporarily put an end to the bullying, it only helped in that one moment.
Years later, while in high school, I saw a more grown-up Billy.
Though I recalled him as intelligent and kind, it was hard to recognize the now withdrawn, sulky young man who sat away from other classmates on the ground against a school wall with his head down. Billy appeared depressed and broken. I believed that he had suffered from years of abuse from his peers and maybe others.
Experiences such as this can linger, and there were times I later wondered what had become of him and what he had become.
My hope was a genius at something extraordinary. Or simply one who excelled in college and beyond.
Before the 19th century, persons with developmental disabilities were taunted, abused, carted away from their homes, incarcerated in unthinkable circumstances.
In 1810, famed French psychiatrist Jean-Etienne Dominique established Esquirol’s House of Health as a compassionate asylum for those deemed “insane.” This included those with mental and physical disabilities.
Dorothea Dix, an 1848 social reformer, advocated at the US Congress for an end to horrific housing conditions for those with developmental disabilities and likely mental illnesses at the US Congress. As a result, former President Ronald Reagan designated in 1987 March as National Developmental Awareness Month through his Proclamation 5613. It was made into Public 99-483 by Congress.
President Reagan’s made a huge step forward in recognizing the approximately four million Americans who were developmentally disabled.
According to his signed Proclamation,
“For many of these people with developmental disabilities, there is now the prospect of a brighter future and greater opportunity. Americans are becoming increasingly aware that such disabilities need not keep individuals from realizing their full potential….”
Today, as exemplified by the California Department Department of Developmental Disabilities, agencies and organizations across the US develop individual program plans (IPP). These groups purchase services from community-based organizations, coordinate and oversee a variety of supportive services and housing options, provide education and training, and help promote well-being and independence for those with developmental disabilities and their families.
Expanding services to the new age of Home and Community-Based Care and Transportation Services, there is also a movement to help create job opportunities for the disabled.
Equal pay and removing barriers of discrimination in labor practices is a positive step towards leading an independent and self-sufficient life– especially at a time of known labor shortages in many industries.
There is expected growth in the populations of persons who will become diagnosed with developmental disabilities.
Causes of disabilities are highly variable. They could include low birth weight and premature birth. Lack of proper prenatal care and nutrition, mother’s drug addiction, and/or substance abuse. Being born in a rural community without medical care, early childhood diseases, genetic and chromosomal anomalies, and more we likely are yet to discover.
In a 2009-2017 study conducted by CDC National Health Interview Survey, approximately one in six children had developmental disabilities, about 17% of that population.
For any parent of a newly born or young child, the CDC highly recommends closely watching the growth and developmental progress through their program, Learn the Signs Act Early.
What is considered normal physical, intellectual, speech, play, learning, socialization, and other behaviors provide clues to whether progress is considered part of overall normal patterns.
Learn the Signs Act Early recommends that developmental stages from 2 months throughout various ages leading up to 5 years are monitored by the family in conjunction with pediatrician guidance.
Learn the Signs may be found at CDC; or, call the CDC at 1-800-232-4636.
Educational and other advances will significantly help many children with developmental disabilities. The children will advance and hopefully thrive through early intervention and proper support.
In our own life experiences, as we encounter persons who may seem delayed in speech, uncoordinated physically, who behave unusually and may appear a little different, remember: They are People Too.
Some may have a developmental disability, but that does not mean they cannot contribute to the good of society as a whole nor deserve our respect.
Let us celebrate National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month by being aware and accepting that seeming a little bit different is not something bad but what another human being is. And with support, they will find their own best pathway throughout life and deserve the opportunity to do so.
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!
(Main image: Thanks to Alireza Attari @alireza_attari for making this photo available freely on Unsplash 🎁
Main image: Thanks to Sonia Cervantes @zonia for making this photo available freely on Unsplash 🎁