19 Feb 7 Myths about Developmental Disability – DD Awareness Month in New Jersey
March is Developmental Disability Awareness month!
And what better way to celebrate than by making our friends and loved ones…well, aware! Before we dive in to this myth versus fact list, it’s important to note that we are intentionally avoiding myths clear thinking people take as obvious in 2019. For example, in conducting research for this article, we found a list that included the following myth:
Myth: Persons who have developmental disabilities must be locked away in institutions for their own, and society’s, safety.
Without sounding like the PC police, believing such a statement requires a high level of ignorance, an undeveloped moral compass, or both. So for this article, we’ve decided to focus on the most common misconceptions friends, family, and potential allies are likely to have about developmental disabilities and the individuals who have them. This way, when the opportunity to provide awareness and education arises, you’ll be ready to have a calm, informative conversation.
So here it is – our list of myths versus facts about developmental disabilities.
Myth # 1 – People with developmental disabilities are also intellectually disabled.
Fact – People with developmental disabilities may or may not be intellectually disabled.
Some developmental disabilities are exclusively physical – such as blindness, while others can be both physical and intellectual and related to genetic influences, i.e Down Syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome and cerebral palsy. Other times, a developmental disability may increase the likelihood of an intellectual disability co-occurring. An example of this is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – a developmental disorder. Data from the Center from Autism Research pegs the likelihood of an intellectual disability occuring in any individual case of autism at about 40%. That is much higher than the average U.S. population. And yet at the same time, individuals with autism often have significantly higher IQs than average.
Taken together, trends like these mean that while developmental and intellectual disabilities are often related, they are most definitely not the same. At the end of the day, here’s what matters most: A) Intelligence is not linear – just because a person struggles in one area doesn’t mean they will in others, and B) Persons with a profound intellectual disabilities should be afforded the same dignity and respect as anyone else!
Myth # 2 – Adults with developmental disabilities should not live independently.
Fact – Many adults with developmental disabilities live highly independent lives. Others require varying levels of support.
For the most part, humans crave autonomy, or the ability to control our own destiny to the greatest extent possible. For this reason many individuals with developmental disabilities wish to live as independently as they can. For some, total or near total independence is possible. For others, assistance in selective areas of living might be appropriate. Even for individuals with the most profound developmental disabilities, maximum independence is desirable.
“Self-efficacy” refers to a person’s belief in their innate ability to achieve goals. High feelings self-efficacy are often present in individuals with developmental disabilities, who have often learned to overcome challenges that would seem daunting to others.
So while compassionate, person-centered support from caregivers is sometimes necessary, the importance of reaching one’s highest level of independence should never be underestimated.
Myth # 3 – Individuals with developmental disabilities have behaviors that cannot be understood.
Fact – Almost all human behavior can be understood on some level, whether its source is psychological, chemical, or environmental.
Even if it’s difficult to pinpoint the reason for any single act or decision, broad behavioral patterns rarely occur in a vacuum. And since basic human needs are well understood, professionals are often able to identify the source of behavioral loops – or why a person keeps engaging in the same type of behavior. If this weren’t the case, therapists and psychiatrists the world over would be out of a job! Thankfully, professionals aren’t always needed to understand the source of actions that fall outside of socially normative. For example, if an individual happens to be non-verbal and is becoming agitated and aggressive, sometimes all that’s required is compassion, support and observation. This might mean little more than taking the time to understand the source of a behavioral trigger and developing a plan to replace it with a more appropriate behavior.
Other times, professional Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy (ABA) can aid in the institution of more positive and productive behavior changes. The point is, there are many ways to understand the source of behavior, irrespective of diagnosis or personality.
Myth #4 – Those with developmental disabilities are rarely employable.
Fact – Many individuals with developmental disabilities hold part or full time jobs and enjoy their occupation. Many others are capable of working, but haven’t received adequate training or haven’t been given a chance.
Sadly, a lingering assumption exists that developmentally disabled individuals are either not employable, or are something akin to charity cases for employment. This has had the effect of causing unnecessarily high levels of unemployment among individuals with developmental disabilities. While it’s true that many individuals with disabilities are unable to perform certain types physical or cognitive tasks, many are more than capable of holding positions requiring high levels of physical or cognitive ability. Others may do best with high levels of predictability. Still others may need a fair amount of support and oversight, but are nonetheless able and willing to contribute.
The point is, many individuals with developmental disabilities are often highly employable. It’s usually jusy a matter of finding the right match!
Myth # 5 – Vocational and career training isn’t for persons who have developmental disabilities.
Fact – Persons with developmental disabilities can (and often do) benefit tremendously from vocational and prevocational training.
This one really hits home for us because we know first hand how far from the truth this is! Just like any person,
individuals with developmental disabilities can achieve fantastic results from learning new skills and abilities, especially when training is designed to prepare for the workforce.
Educational and vocational training can prepare individuals for a wide range of jobs and careers. Beyond job-specific tasks, vocational training can help individuals learn key job interview techniques, understand appropriate dress and work behavior attire, and learn new skills for working with colleagues and communicating with managers.
Myth # 6 – Developmental Disability is synonymous with mental illness
Fact – For thousands of years, folks with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses were incorrectly lumped together.
Developmental disabilities are not synonymous or analogous to mental illness or mental health problems. Mental illness affects mood, emotions, and behavior, and can be experienced by anyone at any stage of life, irrespective of whether or not they have a developmental disability or not. Examples include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression.
It is possible and not uncommon for a person with a developmental disability to suffer with a mental illness as well, but in this case it is considered a secondary condition.
Myth # 7 – Most people with developmental disabilities desire pity, or crave adulation and special attention
Fact – Individuals with developmental disabilities want the same things we all want!
We are all human. Any of us, for any number of reasons might engage in attention seeking behavior from an unstable emotional place. So while it’s perfectly reasonable to assume some individuals with developmental disabilities might seek unhealthy forms of attention, the fact is that most people with developmental disabilities don’t want or need special treatment one way or the other. They just want to be treated with dignity and respect, like anyone else. This fact is consistently supported by polling research of persons with disabilities. We shouldn’t be surprised by it, once again, because people are people.
We hope you’ve found something useful in this article! Have a very happy developmental disabilities awareness month and help us spread the word!