top of page

Listening, Learning, and Understanding Developmental Disabilities

Updated: Mar 18

Discovering Developmental Disabilities

Let’s break the ice and pose this question: Have you ever heard of the term “developmental disability”? Only a few weeks back,I hadn’t heard of the term at all myself. We can read and piece together what it might entail, but that doesn’t give us a true understanding by a long shot. Luckily we live in a digital golden age, so I’d like to extend my hand to you this month and walk you through my own experience in learning what it means for those who have developmental disabilities.

Picture me being told I would be proudly promoting the month of March as “Developmental Disability Month” a week before the end of February. I am someone who has in the past worked as an aide for children with varying cognitive and physical disabilities. Today, I am proudly part of the Inspired Threads family, whose goals include, but aren’t limited to, employing those within the disabled community. Despite this, I didn’t know specifically what developmental disabilities were, nor what constituted one. Now thankfully, I can share the definition given by the CDC for us all to read: “Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. These conditions begin during the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.”

A perfect start, but if you’re like me, I had no idea what it means. It’s short, sweet, and to the point, but too generalized. Looking more into it to find out what constituted developmental disabilities, the disabilities listed were Autism, Down's Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, brain injuries and much more. It was also noted that whilst these could fit under “developmental disabilities” depending on the impact towards the developing stages for each individual, it may not be considered a developmental disability at all. It was still just a basic idea to me, and if I still want to truly understand what it means for those with developmental disabilities, I’d have to dive deeper than surface-leveled definitions.

The Role of NACDD

This is the time where I’d like to introduce everyone to the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (or NACDD for short). Being not only advocates, but built upon by those with developmental disabilities as well, NACDD introduced me to a much larger world than I knew existed. The sheer amount of art, stories, programs, and organizations about, for, and by those with developmental disabilities was incredibly educational and fascinating to look into. They have a file on their site that links to many disability-run podcasts and readings that share personal experiences and thoughts, and they seem to be updating it and sharing more throughout the month for those looking. What is amazing is that these are stories and perspectives are by those with developmental disabilities themselves. It's a great way to share and inform others whilst allowing those within the community to advocate for themselves and have open conversations.

Personal Insights

Listening to true experiences and thoughts, made me rethink my own actions and how I’ve come to view disabilities as a whole. One particularly interesting video, "Treat me like everyone else" | Self-Determination | WI Board for People w/ Develop. Disabilities” stood out strongly to me. Those interviewed were asked a simple question: “What have you had to fight for?” and to my surprise, the speakers shared that something as simple as being given the right to their own autonomy and being treated and seen as adults was something they actively still have to fight for. One speaker even shared that they commonly were spoken to in “baby voices” by others.

Another video with many more speakers, "Hear Me! People with Developmental Disabilities Speak Out_FINAL" is another great example of those sharing their experiences and answering questions or misconceptions you and others may have had.

Invisible Disabilities

Most disabilities are invisible. Walking down the street, the chances are that a lot of people you may pass by could have developmental disabilities. Research from the CDC suggests that one in six children are likely to have a developmental disability–an incredible 17% of all kids. I cannot fathom how it could be so prevalent, yet so unspoken. We learn at a young age that certain disabilities looks a certain way, and that asking about them is wrong to do, however, it should be the exact opposite. We should embrace and listen to these experiences and give them a better platform. Through watching and learning more about developmental disabilities, I realized just how much I didn’t know about disabilities as a whole. Overall the struggles faced by those with developmental disabilities can be invisible and unseen, but it doesn’t mean it has to be unheard.

Spread the Word

So what does it mean for those with developmental disabilities, I ask? Well from reading personal accounts, it means that our current world is not catered to them. I’ve also realized why it can be so hard to explain and understand developmental disabilities, as cases differ greatly between each individual. Whilst a lot of what I was reading highlighted certain common issues, each person’s experiences were still unique to them. The NACDD does something amazing for the month of March in this regard. With their hashtags #DDAwareness2024, #DDAM, #DDAM2024, and #NewOpportunities, you can see posts on social media from around the world. It’s best to learn what developmental disabilities mean from those who have them themselves. Be sure to share, like, and retweet, to give them as big a platform as possible!

Now for everyone on this journey with me, it’s important to know that even when the month ends, our learning doesn’t. The month of developmental disabilities was only a means to begin the conversation for those like me who had yet to join and listen in. I’d like to take a moment to challenge you all to look further into it too, and ask those around you if they have heard of developmental disabilities. Share the conversation, and empower those speaking up and sharing their experiences. Everyone is worth the time it takes to learn and understand the people and world around us.


bottom of page