Friday, March 15, 2019

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

By JULIE FOSTER HAGAN | Assistant Secretary, LDH Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities

Every year, March is celebrated as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, a time to highlight those in our communities who may be affected by a developmental disability. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has even declared March 2019 as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in our state.

Louisiana’s legal definition of a developmental disability is a severe, chronic disability that is attributable to an intellectual or physical impairment or combination of intellectual and physical impairments that is manifested before age 22, is likely to continue indefinitely and results in substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following: self-care, receptive and expressive language, learning, mobility, self-direction, capacity for independent living and economic self-sufficiency.

About one in six children in the United States have one or more developmental disabilities or other developmental delays, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Stories of success

Lots of notable people have been diagnosed with developmental disabilities — here are just a few.

Stephen Hawking, the renowned English theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author, was diagnosed with ALS — more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — shortly after he turned 21 years old. This terminal illness affects and kills the neurons that control the brain and spinal cord, gradually leading to paralysis. Hawking was given two years to live at the time of his diagnosis, yet defied the odds and lived to the age of 76. Along the way, he made enormous contributions to science and disability outreach.

Stephen Hawking takes a zero-gravity flight in a reduced-gravity aircraft in 2007. 

Helen Keller fell ill at the age of 19 months with what is thought to be either scarlet fever or meningitis, which left her blind and deaf. She had limited communication until age 7, when teacher Anne Sullivan made a breakthrough by spelling the word “water” into one of Keller’s hands as water ran over the other hand. With the world of language at her fingertips, Keller grew up to become the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree, and an author, political activist and lecturer.

Helen Keller holds a magnolia circa 1920.

James Madison was 21 when he began having seizures that left him temporarily immobile. Doctors diagnosed him with epilepsy and, believing a change of climate beneficial, urged him to move to western Virginia. That’s where he discovered public service as his calling. His first office in public service was on the Committee of Safety in Orange County, Virginia. He went on to become an American statesman, one of the Founding Fathers and the fourth president of the United States.

This portrait of fourth president James Madison hangs in the White House.

Temple Grandin’s mother hypothesized her daughter’s symptoms were best explained by autism after coming across a checklist published by a renowned psychologist, though Grandin didn’t receive a formal diagnosis until her 40s. She is also an autistic savant who has become well known for her consultancy in the livestock industry, championing the humane treatment of livestock for slaughter, as well as her international activism for people with autism.

Temple Grandin at a book signing at Rochester Community and Technical College in Rochester, Minnesota.

Abbey Nicole Curran was born with cerebral palsy but never let her disability deter her from chasing her dreams. In 2004, at the age of 16, she founded the Miss You Can Do It Pageant with the goal of passing on positive feelings to other girls with disabilities. Four years later, she became Miss Iowa USA 2008 and the first person with a developmental disability to vie for the title of Miss USA. Curran has also found success as an author and motivational speaker.

Former Miss Iowa USA Abbey Nicole Curran started the Miss You Can Do It Pageant.

Discovering developmental disabilities

If you are concerned that your child is not meeting milestones or there may be a problem with your child’s development, talk to your child’s doctor or health care provider. Your child may be monitored for developmental delays or problems, and if any are detected, follow up with a developmental screening. This short test can determine whether your child is learning basic skills at the expected pace or if there are delays.

If screening finds your child has a developmental delay, get help as soon as possible. Early identification and intervention are key. The earlier a developmental delay is discovered, the less your child will have a chance to be significantly affected.

Contact your local human services authority or local government entity to find out if your child is eligible for services from the Louisiana Department of Health’s Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities. The Office also provides a variety of resources here.

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