Developmental Disabilities

Caregiver Reading a Book with a Mentally Disabled Child

Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions involving impairment in physical, learning, language or behavior. They begin in the human developmental period, usually up to age 8. In the new DSM-V book of classifications (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health), developmental disabilities are called Neurodevelopmental Disorders. This term covers Intellectual Disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Motor, Communication and Learning Disorders.

The terms used for conditions change over time, usually for the better. What was once termed Imbecile, Clumsy Child Syndrome and Mentally Retarded, is now called Intellectual Disability. Rosa’s Law (a Federal Statute in the U.S.) replaces Mental Retardation with Intellectual Disability. Today, some individuals with intellectual disabilities refer to ‘retardation’ as the “R Word.” These individuals have been called ‘patients’, ‘clients’, ‘recipients’, ‘consumers’, and finally today ‘people’.

Many individuals with developmental disabilities don’t achieve independent functioning and require support. Some are nearly independent, benefiting from minimal outside support. Some are severely impaired and are fully dependent on others to complete basic life tasks like bathing or eating. Many people with developmental disabilities remain living with family or obtain residential support in group homes, semi-independent living apartments, etc.

The decision to have a disabled family member live in a supported community living setting, for example, a group home, is often difficult. Many family members feel responsible to be care givers for the disabled family member and feel guilty if they want the family member to live outside the family home; to be cared for by a non-family member. This decision can be difficult. However, there are two good reasons to consider community residential services.

  • One reason is living in a setting with a peer group offering social experiences, supported vocational or day activity programs and trained personnel can enhance the family member’s life in unforeseen ways.
  • Another reason is family care givers can experience great stress constantly caring for their family member, resulting in depressed mood, anxiety, poor sleep and in general get “burned out.”

Care givers should keep in mind long term planning for their disabled family member. Services and resources are usually available from local county community mental health agencies.

Often, individuals with developmental disabilities have the most joyful hearts, while bearing significant functional limitations. Often, individuals who are caregivers are filled with love and compassion.   Compassion sometimes might be seen in different terms, including promoting independence and letting go.

Perspectives specializes in counseling to all caregivers, providing empathetic listening and a place to rejuvenate their strength. You Need Not Walk Alone. Perspectives of Troy Counseling Centers can help. Call 248-244-8644.

By: Charles Vermeulen, MS, LLP