The month of March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness month, first started by President Ronald Reagan in 1987.
At the time, it was new to people that those with developmental disabilities could be productive members of the workforce. And with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions were prohibited from discriminating against qualified people with disabilities in hiring.
What is a developmental disability?
It is a broad term that includes many different diagnoses, all which impair physical, learning, language or behavior areas, such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Cerebral Palsy, intellectual disabilities and vision impairment. And developmental disabilities are very common — one in six children are diagnosed with some kind of developmental disability. There are about 178,000 adults and children living with developmental disabilities in Michigan.
I have a few friends who work at group homes for adults diagnosed with autism, and I've had the chance to meet the guys on several occasions. Most of them can't talk, and instead use hand motions to try to get their point across. One of the boys likes to hold my hand or grab my arm whenever he sees me. But I can tell, when I look into their eyes that it's like they're stuck inside their own bodies. When they are frustrated, they started pointing at things and screaming or hitting themselves or other people. And, in public, people will stare or look disgusted. But can you really blame these guys for acting this way? I can't imagine, seeing everyone speaking and talking to one another, and not being able to speak.
Although in my lifetime there have been several changes to make equality of people with developmental disabilities possible, that doesn't mean there isn't still stereotypes.
Sadly, children with special needs are 10 times more likely to be bullied than a child without a developmental disability. For instance this story makes me sick. Kenneth Love Jr. of Wyandotte, Mich. says his 11-year-old autistic son returned home from school with scratches on his hand and face which appeared to be in the shape of the letter "A."
And, according to studies, less than 1 in 5 people with disabilities held jobs in 2010.
The Michigan’s Regional Inclusive Community Coalitions is hosting events this month to raise awareness. For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/ddcouncil.
I would encourage everyone to get to know and help out someone with a developmental disability. You would come to realize that he or she isn't so different after all.