By Debra B. Johnson, Executive Director, St. Clair County Community Mental Health
For the last 32 years, March, “Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month,” has drawn attention to the need for all of us to provide the support, encouragement, and opportunities necessary for people with
intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to reach their full potential. Intellectual Disabilities exist when a person has certain limitations in mental functioning and in skills such as communicating, self-care and social skills. Developmental disabilities are severe, chronic disabilities that can be cognitive, physical, or both. Both intellectual and developmental disabilities usually occur from birth to five years of age, may affect day-to-day functioning, and typically last throughout an individual’s lifetime. Intellectual and developmental disabilities often but do not always co‐occur.
Children from birth to five years of age will experience developmental milestones in how they play, learn, speak, behave and move. Parents and caregivers need to be familiar with these milestones so they can
recognize if they fail to occur. Examples include when a child takes their first step, smiles for the first time and says their first word. While it is important to understand that there is some variability as children will
develop at their own pace, if your child fails to meet milestones for his or her age you should speak to the child’s pediatrician.
Today, most people have a greater understanding of intellectual/developmental disabilities than in prior generations, but unfortunately, many false assumptions and negative stereotypes remain. As a result, bullying of school-age children with special needs and high unemployment rates among adults with I/DD continues. Contrary to these false assumptions and negative stereotypes, the truth is that most people with I/DD work and live productive and self-directed lives.
Their ability to do so is possible in part to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. The ADA prohibits discrimination in all areas of public life against individuals with I/DD, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places open to the public. The passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004 further assisted community integration with guarantees of early intervention, special education, and services to transition high school students with I/DD into adulthood. For example, St. Clair County Community Mental Health’s Community Integration Service (CIS) teaches individuals with I/DD important life skills and provides a variety of vocational
opportunities every week, helping these adults with I/DD live independently and participate actively in our community.
At this time approximately 6.5 million Americans have an I/DD and soon there will be more adults with an I/DD living in the United States than at any other time in our history. There are several reasons for this. First, improvements in medical care allow individuals born with Down syndrome, for example, to live nearly twice as long as they did just 20 years ago. In addition, there has been a steep rise in the number of
children diagnosed with autism, to as many as 1 in 68 births. Incidences of other I/DD also continues to increase, though less sharply.
Regrettably, the advances made by people with I/DD over the last quarter century, made possible by taxpayer-supported programs, continue to be at risk at all levels of government, local, state and federal. Faced with shrinking budgets, school districts sometimes struggle with special education mandates. As we recognize Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, it is the responsibility of each and every one of us
to support the advances made over the last 25 years so that individuals with I/DD can continue to have the opportunity to live secure and fulfilling lives.
About St. Clair County Community Mental Health
St. Clair County Community Mental Health provides public services and supports to adults with mental illnesses, children with serious emotional disturbances, individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities and persons with co-occurring substance use disorders.
For more information, crisis intervention or to find out if you qualify for public services, please call the Access Center at 1-888-225-4447. Support is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days a week. General information is also available at the St. Clair County Community Mental Health website, www.scccmh.org or on the Agency’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/SCCCMH. ●