Developmental Disabilities Nursing

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    Developmental disabilities nursing covers many facets of nursing care. Most nurses have come into contact with patients who have developmental disabilities. It requires tact, diplomacy, thorough knowledge of developmental milestones as well as compassion and patience. Nurses must also be increasingly able to think of their feet and the ability to improvise. Family and caregivers must also be considered in patient education.

    Developmental Disabilities Nursing

    Developmental disabilities nursing cover a wide range of types of nursing. These problems can be mental, emotional or physical. Patients with developmental disabilities run the gamut from infants in early intervention programs to seniors who have lived with life-long disabilities. Some of the diagnoses these patients have include Down's Syndrome, cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol syndrome, anoxic brain injuries and chromosomal abnormalities. These patients are usually born with these disabilities but they can be acquired via trauma both accidental and non-accidental. As these patients survive longer and longer, it is more common for all nurses to encounter patients with these disabilities in the community, in home care, and in all units of the hospital.

    Education Requirements

    RN, LPN or CNA

    Work environment

    The work environment varies considerably. You can be working in:
    • a children's rehabilitation unit in a hospital
    • sub-acute facility
    • long-term acute care hospital (LTACH)
    • long-term chronic care
    • an office setting.

    These patients are typically identified at birth or as an infant when they don't meet developmental milestones. Early childhood intervention programs are often the gate keeper for care. Easter Seals and March of Dimes are both well-known organizations that provide education and care of the patient, family and caregivers. As developmental disabilities frequently require life long care, it is very important to plan ahead for the next stage of care.

    Non-accidental trauma is an unfortunate means to developmental disability also. So, this opens up many other avenues for nurses. Some options here include:
    • state-funded child protective services
    • police departments
    • volunteer organizations
    • education and prevention care

    Opportunities or Projected vacancy rates

    The outlook is bright for nurses and ancillary personnel that want to seek employment in developmental disabilities simply because there are many avenues for this position. As the gestational age of viability sinks lower and lower, there are more and more neonates with developmental disabilities. And, at the other end of the spectrum, as patients live longer and longer; due in part to better medical care, there are many jobs available for senior care also.


    Salary varies considerably depending on the area of the country and setting. Institutional care is needed 24/7 for some of these patients and there may be shift differential pay available.

    In order to show mastery of care regarding developmental disabilities, certification is the next step. The organization that provides this certification is the Developmental Disabilities Nursing Association. DDNA also provides continuing education for both dedicated developmental disabilities nurses as well as others that care for these patients in a more tertiary environment.
    Another excellent resource that assists parents and caregivers is March of Dimes. Their focus is infant care and prevention of prematurity which is a risk factor for developmental delays.
    Easter Seals focuses on education, prevention and care of the child and family with a child who has developmental disabilities.
    Downs Syndrome is a chromosomal abnormality can result in multiple disabilities. This organization provides education and advocacy for these patients.
    A compilation of resources from the National Institutes of Health regarding traumatic brain injuries.
    Last edit by Joe V on Oct 22, '13
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  3. by   NutmeggeRN
    I take care of some very DD students in my public high school. They are often the highlight of my day!