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Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month stresses inclusion

by KATHY HUBBARD Contributing Writer
| March 17, 2021 1:00 AM

The National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) develops a campaign each March to bring awareness of developmental disabilities and highlight how those with and without disabilities can come together to form diverse communities.

“The campaign seeks to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life, as well as awareness of the barriers that people with disabilities still sometimes face in connecting to the communities in which they live,” NACDD explains.

The term developmental disability, as defined in the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 2000 (DD Act), encompasses a broad range of conditions that result from cognitive and physical impairments. Identified before a person reaches the age of 22, a developmental disability is most likely to continue indefinitely and result in substantial functional limitations both intellectually and physically.

“Intellectual disability is characterized by problems with both intellectual functioning or intelligence, which includes the ability to learn, reason, problem-solve, and other skills; and adaptive behavior, which includes everyday social and life skills,” the Institute on Community Integration says.

Examples of developmental disabilities include autism, behavior disorders, brain injury, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, intellectual disability, hearing and vision impairment, and spina bifida.

“Screening for and addressing the first signs of neurodevelopmental and related disabilities can make a dramatic impact on a child’s life. That first smile, a gurgling sound, beginning to follow moving objects … all of these important milestones begin at just two months of age and continue throughout the pre-Kindergarten years as language and other cognitive functions form,” ICI says.

“Intervening promptly during this critical time of brain development is necessary if there are concerns, but not all parents receive this vital information in a way that supports them in acting early,” they say.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that most developmental disabilities begin before a baby is born. But, there are instances when something can happen after birth because of injury, infection, or other factors. Most developmental disabilities are thought to be caused by a complex mix of reasons.

“Factors include genetics; parental health and behaviors (such as smoking and drinking) during pregnancy; complications during birth; infections the mother might have during pregnancy, or the baby might have very early in life; and exposure of the mother or child to high levels of environmental toxins, such as lead,” CDC explains. “For some developmental disabilities, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, which is caused by the mother drinking alcohol during pregnancy, we know the cause. But for most, we don’t.”

Developmental disabilities occur in people of all racial, ethnic, educational, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The CDC approximates that one in six children (17 percent under 18) are affected. It’s estimated that more than five million Americans have a developmental disability.

“Children and adults with disabilities need health care and health programs for the same reasons anyone else does – to stay well, active, and part of the community,” CDC says. “Some health conditions, such as asthma, gastrointestinal symptoms, eczema and skin allergies, and migraine headaches, are more common among children with developmental disabilities. Thus children with developmental disabilities need to see a health care provider regularly.”

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s website (healthandwelfare.idaho.gov) says that the “Children’s Developmental Disabilities Program provides a system of care that has a wide array of home and community-based services for children, including intervention and support services. The system emphasizes evidence-based treatment methods, community integration, and family empowerment.”

Our local Panhandle Special Needs, Inc. provides services to adults with developmental disabilities that include life skills training. This customized instruction focuses on helping the individual to achieve his or her highest level of independence. You can find more information at panhandlespecialneeds.org.

DD Act programs work to bring the latest knowledge and resources to those who can put it to the best use, including self-advocates, families, service providers, and policymakers. DD Act programs also investigate abuse cases and serve as advocates for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. For more information, go to the Administration for Community Living’s website (acl.gov).

Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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Kathy Hubbard