In Honor of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

"In a world where you can be anything, be kind." - Caroline Flack. March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and we wanted to take the opportunity to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities.

Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

The National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) collaborates with its partners each March to observe Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (DDAM). The NACDD states that this “social media campaign highlights the many ways in which people with and without disabilities come together to form strong, diverse communities. The campaign seeks to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all aspects 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.”


According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. About one in six children in the U.S. have one or more developmental disabilities or other developmental delays.” Mental health diagnoses include, but are not limited to: Autistic Spectrum Disorders, Cerebral Palsy, Intellectual Disabilities (formerly known as “mentally handicapped”), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders, language and speech disorders, and learning disabilities.


Raising Awareness for Persons with Disabilities

Regarding awareness of persons with disabilities, some differences in people are extremely obvious and perhaps physical, while many other challenges are invisible at first glance. It’s important not to assume anything even if someone appears not to have any challenges.


For this year, the theme of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is Worlds Imagined which highlights how people with disabilities are living more productive and longer lives. It is focusing on the future beyond the pandemic as we hope for new opportunities and inclusion for people with developmental disabilities/intellectual disabilities (DD/ID).


Just a few of the many issues being addressed are:

  • Identifying the most pressing issues for persons with disabilities and their families and addressing them via advocacy and systemic change

  • Helping people with DD/ID navigate the legal system

  • Providing resources and opportunities for inclusion, equal opportunity, and self-determination.


Myakka Elephant Ranch Adventure

Lou, the African elephant, with Cindy & Shan | www.Myakkaelephantranch.org

Raising awareness of developmental disabilities is near to my heart because I, Cindy, raised a child with multiple developmental disabilities. She is an adult now and she still needs full-time care. With a little creativity and imagination, persons with disabilities can enjoy life like everyone else, although it may not always be apparent to others.


I took my daughter to the Myakka Elephant Ranch recently for an “elephant spa day” and we had an amazing experience getting to see these huge 9,000 lb. mammals up close. We got to bathe them, and my daughter got to feed one a banana. I was doing what I do, managing my daughter in her chair so she would get a good view of them (since she is legally blind) and I was narrating to her what the animals were doing. This may not sound like such a big deal for a typical kid but it was for my daughter. We have taken her to zoos before but due to her poor vision she was not able to see the animals. This experience allowed her to get close enough to actually see these pachyderms and even touch them.


While our group took a break so the staff could let the animals back outside to their enclosed grassy area, I was absorbed in my task of grinding my daughter’s anti-seizure medication to put them in applesauce for her noon dose. I was approached by another attendee with whom I had not spoken with previously. She just quietly asked if I needed anything or if I was all set. I was a bit startled by her question, but I replied “No,” and then thanked her. She was respectful, nonintrusive, but made it clear that she had a sincere desire to help if she was needed. I took this gesture as a kind, subtle and thoughtful offer of help, without assuming that I did want, or need, assistance.


The woman may have had her own backstory such as having her own family member with a physical/intellectual challenge. Or maybe she was or had been a caregiver in her own life. Either way, what a comfort to know that she understood.


Awareness of?

  • Public Interactions. We are programmed to scan our environments and pick out things that are unusual which is why we have survived on this planet (so far, anyways). All of us look at others out of curiosity. We all love to “people watch” in an airport of other busy location... but sometimes people downright stare. Persons with disabilities generally never really feel okay about, but must adjust to, a lifetime of staring eyes. I personally prefer the kids that just come up and ask, “Why is she in a wheelchair? Don’t her legs work?” At least kids are direct, which invites a dialog and an opportunity for me to insert education, usually loud enough to educate the parent as well.

  • Everyday life. As a mom of a 31-year-old woman with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair for mobility, I have adjusted to the lifestyle needed to accommodate someone with medical conditions and physical limitations. What most people don’t realize is that the “disability” is normal for the person and their families. We have figured things out as we have had to adjust, not really because we are an “amazing” person or a super-parent, but out of necessity. Just like every other parent, we do what we have to do to take care of our children of all conditions and ages.

  • Labels. There is an ongoing debate about what terms we use to identify many diverse types of marginalized persons, including those with disabilities. Terms do come and go. Once upon a time we used words like “retarded” to describe what is now known as “a person with an intellectual disability.” The terms we prefer today may be interpreted as offensive in the future. Being respectful to others and asking them what terms they prefer is appropriate. One of my daughter’s favorite T-shirts says on it, “Kind is Cool.” Maybe we don’t need to worry so much about which exact words we use as long as we don’t degrade people with ugly labels and behave respectfully. Maybe we all just need to be kind to each other regardless of our abilities and our challenges.


In the spirit of DDAM, we encourage you to be interested in others who look different than you, to be inclusive, and just to be kind. As Caroline Flack said, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”


Please visit the website www.nacdd.org for information and resources for persons with DD and their families/friends or to contact the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities directly, email them @ info@NACDD.org or phone them @ 202-506-5813.

 

Thank you so much to #teamsoulspring counselor Cindy Gourley LMHC. for her contribution to the content of this article.

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