How to become a Developmental Disability Nurse

It’s only a month away from nursing school graduation and Astrid is excited to finally reap the fruits of her labor, she is very excited to finally become a nurse, for one. She knows that graduation is not yet the end and she still has a lot to go through, but still, she couldn’t help but feel giddy and thrilled of all the possibility it brings. And because of this, she finds herself sitting in front of her laptop, surfing the internet for different nursing specializations that she could choose from when one particularly catches her attention – Developmental Disability Nursing.

Hmm, I wonder what that is, or what it’s about,she thinks to herself as she clicks the link and reads on.

What a Developmental Disability Nurse is

Developmental Disability Nurses who are also known as Special Needs Nurses are those who help patients with mental or developmental disabilities including mental retardation, Down’s syndrome, pervasive developmental disorders, autism, Rett’s syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome and many more. These disorders are generally chronic, permanent conditions that develop at birth and affect one’s ability to learn and perform basic life skills.

The main duties of these nurses include: assisting patients with feeding and bodily functions, encouraging their independent mobility, educating them on the condition and its medical requirements and assisting the patient with language and communication skills.

Another responsibility of these nurses includes educating patients’ families about the disability and provide emotional support. As a Developmental Disability Nurse, you can work in a variety of settings, from hospitals to schools, to private businesses and patients’ homes.

For one to become a developmental disability nurse, you must have a great deal of patience and compassion for the people you work with as well as should also be able to interpret and anticipate the needs of your patients since many are unable to communicate properly.


A developmental disability nurse that has earned an RN degree and certification can earn between $50,000-$60,000 per year, while an LPN can generally earn between $34,000-$44,000. Other things that can affect the annual salary are the geographic location and facility of employment. Additionally, some home health care centers also provide their nurses with mileage reimbursement as an added perk, since they travel to the homes of their patients.

How to become one

If you think this specialization is your cup of tea, then first you need to get either a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) certification, Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

After such, you must then take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) then gain experience as you start working as a Registered Nurse. You’ll need to work for a minimum of two years in developmental disabilities before applying to take the developmental disabilities certification exam from the Developmental Disabilities Nurses Association (DDNA).

After you have completed all the above mentioned steps, you can finally become a Developmental Disability Nurse.


Liane Clores, RN MAN

Currently an Intensive Care Unit nurse, pursuing a degree in Master of Arts in Nursing Major in Nursing Service Administration. Has been a contributor of Student Nurses Quarterly, Vox Populi, The Hillside Echo and the Voice of Nightingale publications. Other experience include: Medical-Surgical, Pediatric, Obstetric, Emergency and Recovery Room Nursing.

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