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National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month – March 2025

National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is observed in March in the U.S. This class of disabilities can refer to impairments in learning and behavior, such as autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and impairments in physical and/or intellectual functioning such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and Down syndrome. The campaign seeks to raise awareness about including people with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life. It also creates awareness of the difficulties that people with disabilities still face in fitting into the communities in which they live.

History of National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

Before the 19th century, people with developmental disabilities were treated violently and lived in poor, unhygienic environments. Many were ‘passed on,’ a practice of carting off people to be dropped in another town. More awareness about developmental disabilities spread in this century both in England and in the U.S.

Social reformers such as Dorothy Dix became leading advocates of the human rights of people with disabilities. Since it was socially unacceptable for a woman to speak in Congress, she asked another reformer, Samuel Gridley Howe, to present her argument for rehabilitating people with disabilities. The motion was passed in the Senate and the House of Representatives but was vetoed by President Pierce. Even the Romantic poets of England such as Byron, Wordsworth, and Keats, who highlighted the goodness of leading a simple life close to nature, were instrumental in prompting authorities to situate asylums in the countryside.

Other reformers and educationists such as Edouard Seguin believed in the benefits of sensory and muscular training to force the central nervous system to “take over” and perform duties that children were otherwise unable to. Maria Montessori was influenced by his methods while working with children with disabilities and other children. The nature of training and institutions continued to evolve over the century, leading to an adverse development. Custodial institutions started being established by the end of the century, which essentially segregated pupils from the rest of the community. It was only after the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1970s and 1980s that Ronald Reagan declared March the month for National Developmental Disabilities Awareness in 1987.

National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month timeline

Esquirol’s House of Health

Jean-Etienne Dominique Esquirol, a famous psychiatrist in France, sets up a compassionate asylum for people termed ‘insane.’

Dorothea Dix Reaches Congress

Social reformer Dorothea Dix does not let her position as a woman get in the way of advocating for an end to the abysmal conditions of housing for persons with disabilities.

An Association Is Set Up

Six medical professionals come together to set up what would later become the American Association for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities or A.A.I.D.D.

A Month Is Dedicated

President Ronald Reagan designates the month of March as National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month FAQs

How many people in the U.S. have developmental disabilities?

Over six million Americans are said to have developmental disabilities. It is estimated by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. that as many as one in six kids (17%) can be dealing with developmental disabilities. 

Who is the artist for Development Disabilities Awareness Month?

Artwork featured at DC Studio ‘Art Enables’ serves as logo imagery for DD Awareness Month. 

Who are the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities?

Each March, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (A.U.C.D.), and the National Disability Rights Network (N.D.R.N.) work together to highlight the ways in which people with disabilities unite to form strong communities.

How to Observe National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

  1. Learn about the rights of people with disabilities

    The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, making it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. Read about the rights laid down in this Act, which is also enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You may even be able to support a colleague or friend.

  2. Volunteer for an organization

    There are many organizations working at the national and local levels with different forms of disabilities. Some national-level ones are The National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (N.A.C.D.D.), National Disability Institute, and the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities. If you know of any local chapters or even schools that work with children or adults with disabilities, now is a great time to reach out to them.

  3. Raise funds

    Many organizations in the field are non-profits looking to raise funds to provide better and more services to their participants. If you are skilled at marketing, networking, or other related jobs, you can consider using your time to set up a fundraiser in March.

5 Facts About Disabilities

  1. Eugenics was used as a counter

    In the early 20th century, it was thought that disabilities could be “cured” through the application of eugenics, which was later discredited as a movement.

  2. ‘Feeble-minded’ was a descriptive term

    In the 19th and early 20th centuries, people with developmental or intellectual disabilities were referred to as ‘feeble-minded,’ ‘idiots,’ or ‘imbeciles.’

  3. The cut-off age is 22

    According to the N.A.C.D.D., in order to qualify as a developmental disability, the disability has to occur in individuals younger than 22 years.

  4. Schizophrenia was misnamed

    Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler first used the word ‘autism’ for a kind of schizophrenia.

  5. 70 is the cut-off for intellectual disability

    An I.Q. score of less than 70 qualifies a person as intellectually disabled.

Why National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is Important

  1. It has a chequered history

    While there is much more positive awareness about disabilities now, it has not always been a history of progress. Doctors and educators who were successful in establishing more compassionate conditions had to give way to more rigid forms of institutionalization later. This was questioned only around 40 to 50 years ago.

  2. It’s a chance to volunteer

    Volunteering for an organization working on disability is a great way to improve our own social and interpersonal skills, even if we’re just doing office work. It is a great way to learn something new about ourselves and about another person with a different lifestyle and differing abilities.

  3. It raises our self-awareness

    The month reminds us that we’re all part of a broad spectrum of intellectual and physical functioning. It is a chance to be more empathetic and to remind ourselves of the challenges we face in our own lives, regardless of our I.Q. or diagnosis.

National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month dates

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