Developmental disabilities nurses, also known as intellectual and developmental disabilities nurses or special needs nurses, care for patients with a physical, mental or behavioral disability, such as Downs Syndrome, autism, pervasive developmental delays, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, dementia and mental illness. They specialize in maintaining the health of their patients, helping them develop the skills they need to communicate, take care of their daily needs and develop social skills.
I/DD nurses provide for patients of all ages, assisting them with feeding, controlling their bodily functions and developing skills they need to be independent and mobile. I/DD nurses work with patients and their families, providing education and coaching to help family members assist the disabled patient. I/DD nurses may work in hospitals, schools, nursing and rehabilitation centers, home health care and public health agencies, and community primary care centers.
I/DD nurses may be registered nurses or licensed practical nurses. Registered nurses have a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing or a two or three-year associate degree in Nursing. In addition, some hospitals offer RN diploma programs, which take up to three years to complete. RNs must be licensed by the state in which they work. They perform nursing assessments, write nursing/health care plans, train caregivers and supervise other nursing staff, such as LPNs and nursing assistants. LPN training is provided by technical schools, vocational schools, community colleges, junior colleges and hospitals and takes up to 18 months to complete. LPN working with I/DD patients perform basic nursing duties, such as checking vital signs, and teaching care givers how to care for I/DD patients. All work is done under the supervision of an RN. Like RNs, they must have a state-issued LPN license.
Experienced RNs with at least 4,000 hours of work in a developmental disabilities nursing practice are eligible to take the Certification of Developmental Disabilities Nursing certification test. The certification test must be taken every two years and RNs must attend continuing education classes in I/DD nursing to maintain their certification.
Pay and Career Prospects
According to NursingSchools.net, the average annual salary for RNs, with a CDDN is $50,000 to $60,000 per year and LPNs between $34,000 and $44,000. In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics reports that the median annual income for all RNs, including I/DD nurses, was $62,450 in May 2008 with a range of $43,410 to $92,240. LPNs earned a median annual income of $39,030 in May 2008, with a pay range of $28,260 to $53, 580. Like other nursing specialties, there is a shortage of I/DD nurses that is expected to grow in the coming years. The need for I/DD nurses will increase as the population ages increasing the demand for care by the elderly. The increasing focus on children with developmental disabilities such as autism, Downs Syndrome and cerebral palsy will require more I/DD nurses to help children develop the skills they need to adapt to family, school and community activities.