Diversity: Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

March is a month for understanding, empathy, and inclusion, not just a bridge between winter and spring. This month is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (DDAM), where we celebrate individuals' uniqueness and bring attention to the challenges they face.  

During March, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) and its partners collaborate to lead this campaign. They promote understanding and the recognition of people with developmental disabilities. 

First off, what are developmental disabilities?   

Developmental disabilities are conditions caused by problems in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas, as stated by the CDC 

Developmental disabilities encompass a range of conditions affecting physical, cognitive, and emotional development. Each person's experience is unique. We need to recognize that diversity extends beyond what meets the eye.  

About one in six children in the U.S. have one or more developmental disabilities or other developmental delays. Acknowledging the hurdles the individuals face daily is critical. By understanding their challenges, we can work towards creating a society that accommodates and celebrates their differences.   

blue bear with puzzle piece heart representing developmental disabilities month
Breaking Stereotypes/Removing barriers   

We need to challenge stereotypes and remove barriers for those with developmental disabilities. Individuals with developmental disabilities define themselves not by their conditions but by their abilities, strengths, and potential.  

Inclusion is the heart of acceptance. As we strive for a society that values diversity, let's explore initiatives and campaigns that champion inclusion. We all must actively create environments that value and include everyone, from education to workplaces.  

One of my favorite stories is that of the local Inclusion Cafe, nestled in Elmer, NJ. This cafe “offers employment and volunteer opportunities for individuals with disabilities.”  

Inclusion Cafe started following the birth of Amanda's son, Rome, who has Down Syndrome. Her and her family are passionate about spreading awareness for “inclusion and the beauty of Down Syndrome.”  

Their coffee and breakfast are excellent. I particularly love their homemade spicy vegetable cream cheese on a poppy seed bagel! You can find out more about their story and operating hours listed on their website.  

Inclusion in media is also very impactful. Netflix's popular show, Love on the Spectrum, follows young adults with autism as they navigate dating. It can be challenging but shows like this help shine light on the challenges these individuals face, highlighting the myths and misbeliefs about autism. 

Advocacy and Support

As advocates, it's crucial to lend our voices to the cause. Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is a perfect time to explore advocacy efforts and support networks. Together, we can increase awareness, promote policy changes, and ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to thrive.   

ALSO is a nonprofit that operates as one of Oregon's disability support service providers in the Portland Metro area. It presents eight effective ways to advocate for individuals with disabilities.  

  • See the individual and the disability 
  • Engage in active listening
  • Respect rights in decision-making
  • Promote accessibility in your home and local community 
  • Respect needs for autonomy and self-determination
  • Support self-direction
  • Celebrate and support self-advocacy
  • Advocate for disability inclusivity and fights against discrimination
Mental Health and Maternal Wellbeing

We also need to extend our focus to the intersection of mental health, maternal health, and developmental disabilities. Nurturing mental health is a key component of creating a supportive environment for mothers and their children.  

Research consistently emphasizes the profound impact of maternal mental health on child development. For mothers navigating parenthood with children with developmental disabilities, the need for support is even more necessary. The stresses and challenges faced by mothers in such situations highlight the importance of mental health support.  

Do you suspect your child might have developmental delays? Talking to your pediatrician is the first step. Additionally, resources like Acenda's Connecting NJ access center can help families access the support they need. At Acenda, our programs play a vital role in early detection, intervention, and ongoing support.  

Here's how Acenda is helping families in New Jersey:

Early detection: We utilize the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) in our Home Visiting programs. This screening tool helps identify potential developmental concerns and prompts further discussion with your pediatrician.

Connecting to resources: If delays are identified, Acenda can facilitate referrals to Early Intervention Services.

Supporting development beyond our clientele: Our Early Childhood Specialist Program offers free ASQ screenings to the public. If your child isn't meeting certain milestones, our specialists provide developmental coaching and connect families with relevant resources. We're dedicated to ensuring every child gets the help they need, from Early Intervention to local school Special Needs Programs.

Seamless support for families: When families come to our Maternal Health Programs from Connecting NJ, we ensure they know about all available services in their community. Our goal is to empower families with the knowledge and resources they need to thrive.

Get Involved   

From community gatherings to awareness campaigns, there are numerous ways to get involved. Whether it's volunteering your time or attending an event, your participation contributes to a more inclusive and compassionate society.   

As Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month unfolds, let's commit to being advocates of understanding, empathy, and inclusion. Celebrate diversity, challenge stereotypes, and share success stories to create a world where everyone can thrive. Share this message, join the conversation, and let's make March a month of meaningful change. Together, we can create a world that truly embraces diversity in all its beautiful forms.

Don't wait to get the support your need and deserve.

About the Author

Mariana Heyel, Communications Coordinator at Acenda, is a South Jersey native who ventured to the University of South Carolina for her undergraduate degree, where she studied Marketing and Entrepreneurial Management. Passionate about connection, good stories, and the importance of mental health in her life.

Guest Author

Christina Reiss is the Program Director of Infant and Early Childhood Health at Acenda and works closely with the Maternal Health Home Visiting Programs and Connecting NJ. Christina is a South Jersey native who received her Bachelors in Social Work from Rutgers University in Camden. She is passionate about working with people, especially the Maternal Health population, and ensuring everyone has access to the necessary resources to ensure they can live to the fullest!