Developmental disability nurses are specially trained to treat and care for individuals who have severe mental and/or physical disabilities. Developmental disabilities are chronic, permanent disabilities that typically begin at birth or early childhood (during development) and affect a person’s ability to perform basic life activities and live independently. Some examples of these disabilities may include: spina bifida, Down syndrome, mental retardation, brain damage, autism, cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol syndrome and behavior disorders. Some developmental disability nurses work with the same patients day after day in a group home setting, but others work in home health care and work with one individual on a daily basis.
You can enter the field of developmental disability nursing after completing an associate or bachelor’s degree program in nursing from an accredited school of nursing. After completing a nursing program, you will need to obtain state licensure as a Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Professional Nurse (LPN). Many people in the profession work as LPNs under the direction of a head RN. Those in the profession recommend working in a standard hospital setting and getting experience in “nursing instincts” before moving into DD nursing, where patients are not always able to communicate their needs effectively. Certification will also be important—the Developmental Disability Nurses Association offers the CDDN (Certified Developmental Disability Nurse) credential.
Salaries will differ greatly between LPNs and RNs in the field of developmental disability. A cursory search of job postings reveals that RNs in the field most often earn between $50,000 and $60,000 annually, while LPNs earn closer to $34,000 to $44,000. Those planning on entering this nursing specialty should consider the salary potential when choosing which license to pursue. LPNs don’t need to go to school nearly as long, but lack the earning potential and their opportunities for advancement are more limited. Home health care nurses in developmental disability often receive mileage reimbursement as an added benefit. However, those in the field would say the greatest benefit is the opportunity to help a population group that truly cannot help themselves to live a richer, fuller life.