What Is a Developmental Disability Nurse?

Known also as a Special Needs nurse, the Developmental Disability nurse works with patients or populations that have developmental disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, cerebral palsy and many other developmental disorders. Working with patients from newborn to adult, Developmental Disability Nurses are an important point of contact for patients and their families as well as the rest of the interdisciplinary care team.

Becoming a Developmental Disability Nurse

Registered nurses may find success in looking for job postings through hospitals and specialist offices, as well through government and community agencies. While some nurses apply for the role of Developmental Disability Nurse right after graduation and licensure, many wait until they have some nursing experience before applying.

At present, there are no formal internship opportunities for new graduates who apply for the role, though hospitals may have their own procedures in place, or have an agreement with local nursing programs to facilitate intake and training. Internships typically include both a didactic and practical component.

As previously stated, nurses with more experience often find the role of nursing individuals with special needs to be a fulfilling career choice. With some additional training on developmental disabilities, rights of individuals under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Developmental Disabilities Nurses Association (DDNA) and other factors, nurses will be ready for the challenges of the role.

What Are the Education Requirements for a Developmental Disability Nurse?

Post-graduation from a 2-year college ADN program or with your 4-year BSN degree, nurses must of course become licensed through the NCLEX examination. Nurses must work for two or more years with patients that have developmental or intellectual disabilities prior to becoming eligible for certification through the Developmental Disabilities Nurses Association (DDNA).

Are Any Certifications or Credentials Needed?

While not a requirement, seeking certification through the DDNA means that you have attained a level of competency and experience with a vulnerable population. Certification articulates that you have specialized knowledge in the field and with regard to disabilities and related conditions.

Where Do Developmental Disability Nurses Work?

Developmental Disability nurses work primarily in patient-facing roles, either in the clinic, in the community, with families or possibly in the group home or institutional setting. Some nurses who work with the special needs population do choose to pursue teaching, administration and policy work - however most jobs are patient-focused.

What Does a Developmental Disability Nurse Do?

In addition to advocacy, the Developmental Disability nurse will work closely with the interdisciplinary team made up of medical personnel, social workers, support staff members, language therapists and occupational therapists to help patients attain a good quality of life and health, whether they live independently, in a group setting or in an institution. Nurses may also work or volunteer as community advocates and points of contact for families of patients in their childhood years, teens or as adults.

What Are the Roles & Duties of a Developmental Disability Nurse?

  • Works with parents and caregivers to develop an evidence-based plan for school or work
  • Coordinates various aspects of care
  • Analyze health information and makes recommendations accordingly
  • Manages health screenings at school or in the workplace according to established guidelines.
  • Provides health-related education and advocacy to various stakeholders involved in the patient's life
  • Develop health-related policies and procedures
  • Manages professional nursing services
  • Records accurate records for the interdisciplinary team
  • Refers patients to other staff or services for a variety of developmental, social, and mentla health support
  • Acts as a liaison between family, educators, external health and advocacy organizations as well as the medical team
  • Researches and recommends modification of educational or workplace programming and roles

Developmental Disability Nurse Salary & Employment

While standards of preventative care have risen over the past generation, resulting in less individuals with developmental differences and special needs, diagnostic tools for genes and behavior have vastly increased the amount of knowledge that we have about best treatment and outcomes for patients with special needs, resulting in the need for nurses who are highly skilled, certified and most of all compassionate toward their chosen patient population. Individuals with special needs, and facilities that support them are found throughout the country, however nursing salary may increase in urban areas where cost of living is higher.

At present, the average salary for a Developmental Disability Nurse ranges from $42,000 to $86,000 depending on location, experience and qualifications. Many nurses receive a mileage stipend as there is often a home-care component to the job.

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