"My body makes me disabled.
Society makes me handicapped." -anonymous
Developmental disabilities are a diverse group of physical, cognitive, psychological, sensory, and speech impairments that begin anytime during development up to 18 years of age. In most instances, the cause of the disability is not known. That's why it's important to understand what factors increase the chance that a child will have a developmental disability and what can be done to prevent the condition.
Did You Know?
- About 17% of U.S. children under 18 years of age have a developmental disability.
- Approximately 2% of school-aged children, 3-21 years old, in the U.S. have a serious developmental disability; such as an intellectual disability, autism, cerebral palsy, or Down Syndrome; and need $36 billion each year of special education services.
A New Perspective
People with developmental disabilities are each different from one another, even if they share the same medical diagnosis. Why? Because every person ever born is different from everyone else! It’s as incorrect to generalize about the child who has an intellectual disability or autism as it is to assume that people with brown eyes or Canadian grandfathers are all alike.
A New Vision
People with developmental disabilities have special needs, but their basic needs are the same as everyone else’s. They need to have a home, learn useful, relevant skills; work; and develop and sustain relationships with people they care about and who care about them. Abilities United is here to help you understand that individuals with developmental disabilities have many talents and skills and are often more handicapped by our attitudes than by their disabilities.
A New Way of Thinking
When you think about people with developmental disabilities, think of them first as PEOPLE. Just like you, they have need to
- Experience love and friendship
- Be respected and treated with dignity
- Have a decent and appropriate place to live
- Develop skills that enable them to participate in community
- Have the opportunity to learn throughout their lives
- Access information and opportunities so they can make choices and exercise their rights
- Engage in meaningful employment
- Take risks and make mistakes
Connect as Friends
We all need friends. Most of us learned this when we played on our school playgrounds during recess. As adults, we enjoy getting together with our friends and families.
People with developmental disabilities need companionship, too. Although California law guarantees them "social interaction, participation in community affairs, and freedom from isolation," who can guarantee friendship? If you have ever lost a close friend, you will remember the painful emptiness. People with developmental disabilities are wounded by social isolation even more than we may be, because they often experience it daily.
Connect as Co-Workers
Many people with developmental disabilities can obtain and retain jobs, though some will need more support than others. California, like other states, has a variety of vocational training and employment services. Terms you may hear are sheltered workshops, supported employment, or enclaves. These terms describe the different types of employment opportunities. Trained staff, known as job coaches, provide support. The workers enjoy their jobs and the social interaction of the workplace. They love being paid for their work – it proves that they are productive citizens. People with disabilities have skills that can benefit any business. They just need to be given a chance to practice their skills in a paid or volunteer position.
Connect as Neighbors
Experiences in California and elsewhere show that people with developmental disabilities who live in the community are excellent neighbors. Their homes are well-maintained. They keep busy during the day. Young children attend special services; school-aged youngsters go to school and many adults are either employed or in vocational services to prepare for jobs. Others may be enrolled at day centers away from home where they learn to use public transportation, manage money, take care of themselves, and communicate.
What Can You Do?
- Never ignore someone who is disabled.
- Do not pretend that the person is not there!
- Introduce yourself, find a common subject to discuss.
- Visit an organization in your community that provides services to people with developmental disabilities.
- You can become a board member, work on special events, or spend a few hours a month helping in a variety of capacities.