For Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month 2023, we are exploring key considerations for children and youth professionals and emphasizing the importance of disability inclusion and behavior support training to inspire meaningful action.
March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness month. This month-long event presents an opportunity to come together for children and youth with developmental disabilities and to work on implementing the best strategies to support them.
While there have been noteworthy changes in disability inclusion in the decades since President Ronald Reagan first declared March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in 1987, many challenges remain.
At Kids Included Together (KIT), we believe that through disability inclusion and behavior support training, we can inspire meaningful action and build a world where children of all abilities can thrive together.
To add to the conversation this month, this blog addresses key considerations for professionals working towards creating inclusive environments for youth with developmental disabilities.
Read the KIT Guide Book: Supporting Children & Youth with Developmental Disabilities
Working with children with developmental disabilities comes with unique challenges, and we’re here to help.
That’s why we’ve created a comprehensive booklet designed to serve as your guide to providing the best possible support for each child’s individual needs.
Understanding Developmental Disabilities
Recent estimates in the United States show that about 1 in 6 children aged 3 through 17 years have one or more developmental disabilities.
The CDC describes Developmental Disabilities (DD) as “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.”
Developmental disabilities can take many forms, from physical impairments to learning disabilities, and they aren’t always visible. Some examples include:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Brain Injuries
- Cerebral Palsy
- Down Syndrome
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- Learning And Intellectual Disability
- Spina Bifida
- Hearing Loss
- Visual Impairments
The Importance of Inclusion & Going Beyond the Diagnosis
Assessments and diagnoses can be helpful tools in supporting children with developmental and learning needs, but they need to be used with care. The assessments used for young children aren’t perfect. They have cultural biases and often come up short for children who speak a language other than English.
When interpreting a child’s assessment information, it’s important to keep this in mind. Don’t assume that just because a test was administered or an evaluation was made that you know everything you need to know about the children in your care. In fact, look at this information cautiously, because there is always more to each child’s story than meets the eye.
If we’re not careful, our understanding of the “typical” can skew our vision when we’re trying to assess children, particularly those who are younger or who have disabilities that prevent them from communicating verbally.
The best thing you can do is get to know each child, their interests and strengths, and to communicate with their family. Pay attention to the things that seem to help the child thrive. Most children (both with and without developmental disabilities) will need your help with various activities, tasks, or interactions at different times.
Prioritizing disability inclusion in programs, schools, and communities is another crucial step to ensuring that children with developmental disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of life without being separated or excluded. This helps to improve their social skills and self-esteem while reducing the stigma surrounding disabilities. It also breaks down the barriers that prevent them from fully participating in your programs and in their communities.
Bust the Misconceptions of Inclusion with this KIT Course: Debunking the Myths of Inclusion
Attitudes, beliefs, policies, and resources influence how inclusion is viewed and put into practice in child and youth programs. This webinar will explore myths of inclusion that sometimes interfere with creating welcoming and inclusive environments for all children.
Supporting Kids & Youth with Developmental Disabilities
So, what does support mean for professionals working with children and youth with developmental disabilities? Here are tips, strategies, and areas of support you need to consider to ensure your organization is effectively meeting the needs of all your program participants.
- Mobility and Access
Consider if all areas of your program are accessible to children who need mobility support. Mobility limitations, adaptive equipment, or personal care needs should not limit participation in activities. It’s crucial that staff take the time to view access through the lens of children who require mobility aids or need assistance in self-care.
When assessing the accessibility of your program, all children should have support to:
- Access all areas of the program
- Navigate program spaces
- Reach and use program materials
- Have respectful assistance with self-care
Collaborating with family members and taking a proactive approach can ensure that youth with developmental disabilities have the support they need to fully participate in your program.
Do you need help looking for ways to develop an inclusive, accessible space?
The Institute for Human Centered Design produced an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) checklist for existing facilities based on 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible design.
For children with developmental disabilities, communication can be a challenge. When you’re creating a program to support their needs, it’s important to think about ways that they can communicate effectively, whether that means providing visual support or high-tech, assistive devices.
You want to ensure that children in your program can:
- Share thoughts and ideas
- Ask questions
- Be understood
- Express needs
The most essential part of creating programs accessible to all children is to directly ask the child, their family, or their caregivers what’s needed to best support the child’s communication.
It’s important to remember that verbal communication is only one form of communication. Non-verbal, written, visual, and listening are all effective ways to communicate. Keep in mind that just because some children with disabilities are non-verbal does not mean they can’t understand what you’re trying to communicate.
Here are some ways to make sure that you’re providing the kids in your program multiple methods of communication:
- Collaborate with the participants’ families, caregivers, or school professionals to understand their communication needs, preferences, and how you can support them in your program. Ask what accommodations they think would lead to a successful experience for the child.
- Offer multiple opportunities for participants to share their thoughts and ideas with visual aids such as pictures, charts, or videos to supplement verbal communication.
- Provide opportunities for active listening where you are truly engaged in what the child is saying and seeking to understand their perspective.
- Encourage non-verbal communication such as gestures or facial expressions, and be mindful of the messages you’re sending with your own body language.
- Participation in Program Activities
When youth with developmental disabilities are participating in programs alongside peers without disabilities, it creates an inclusive environment that supports all involved as they discover their individual strengths, interests, and passions.
When assessing participation opportunities in your program, all children should have support to:
- Learn rules and expectations
- Make choices
- Transition from one thing to another
- Join activities, games, and clubs
- Make connections and natural friendships
It is also important to remember that each child has individual needs and requires different things to participate fully. For example, some children may need more time to process new rules or expectations, while others may need more support to learn new skills. As a result, staff in inclusive programs are encouraged to consider the needs of all participants on a case-by-case basis.
Is Your Program Currently Implementing Inclusive Practices?
Creating and maintaining a fully inclusive program takes ongoing work and planning. Use these checklists to know how your organization is doing and ensure you’re supporting children of all abilities based on their individual needs.
- Disability-Positive Language
How programs use language can either reinforce harmful stereotypes or send a powerful message about an individual’s value and identity.
The American Psychological Association (APA) urges people to simply put the person first when communicating about disabilities. instead of referring to a child as “the Down syndrome kid,” you can use, “the child with Down syndrome.” This puts focus on the person first rather than the disability.
It is also important to note that while some people prefer person-first language (i.e., “person who has a disability”), others prefer identity-first language (i.e., “a deaf person”). And some may use both terms depending on the context.
The key is to be respectful of those you’re working with by listening carefully to their language and asking for clarification if needed. Avoid using language that suggests having a disability is inherently negative such as “suffers from” or “confined to.”
Instead, focus on the person and use language that is respectful and accurate, the same way you would refer to anyone else in your community. Inclusive programs always send a clear message that disability is not something to be pitied or feared.
Learn to Support Kids with Hearing and Vision Impairments with this KIT Course:
Understanding Visual and Auditory Disabilities
15% of children experience hearing loss and up to 50% of children experience vision loss that can impact learning. Join us for an introduction to visual and auditory disabilities, and learn strategies to support children and youth who experience them.
Beyond Awareness: Taking Action for Kids with Developmental Disabilities
March marks a significant month in the battle against discrimination and exclusion of kids with developmental disabilities.
If you or your organization is seeking guidance on how to support these youth, this blog should serve as a useful resource.
Kids Included Together provides dynamic online training, empowering coaching and consulting, and expert policy and standards development that give people who work with children a “want to, can do and will do” attitude toward welcoming kids with disabilities or other complex needs. KIT is also an authorized provider of International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) CEUs for online training to support your professional development needs.
Browse a selection of our courses by clicking the link above by topic or age group and create an account to enroll.
You can purchase online courses individually or you can purchase our All-Access Annual Pass.
We can also provide training to your entire team with a group subscription.
Contact KIT and our experienced staff will work with you to customize a Training and Support Package that meets your specific needs!