How to Become a Developmental Disability Nurse

Do you know that over 40 million Americans have a disability? Are you interested in working as a nurse and caring for people with disabilities (PWD)? You could provide support to help individuals gain positive control over their life as a developmental disability nurse that works with different populations.

Would you like to learn how to become a developmental disability nurse? This role lets you work in hospitals, schools, and specialized care facilities.

You’ll meet the healthcare needs of those with various developmental disabilities. Examples include autism spectrum disorder, Down’s syndrome, and other developmental disorders.

This is a demanding role, yet can be immensely fulfilling for the right person. Keep reading to learn about becoming a developmental disability nurse (DDN).

Complete a Degree in Nursing

Commonly, DDNs must be registered nurses (RN) with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. BSN programs usually take four years of full-time study. If you already have a bachelor's degree in another field it may take less time.

If you have already earned an Associates's Degree in Nursing (ADN), there are ADN-to BSN programs. Taking advanced placement credits during high school can also help you finish sooner.

It’s key to note that not all BSN degree nursing programs teach about the DDN role. Thus, discussing your goals with an advisor is important so you can align your clinical experiences with then

Some healthcare facilities accept RNs with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Others require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and/or certification as a DDN that works with patients.

Become Licensed as a Registered Nurse

After completing the BSN program, the individual must pass the NCLEX RN exam. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) administers this test. Successful completion of this exam conveys the license to practice as an RN.

Get Experience Working as an RN

After completing your education and licensure to become a special needs nurse, you still face a big learning curve. The limited clinical experience during school can’t fully prepare you. Thus, it’s important for nurses to spend several years working to gain expertise.

You'll need communication skills to succeed.

Since many programs don’t include specific DDN educations, it’s valuable to find a related job. Look for an RN position that involves working with PWDs. This will help you achieve the needed learning curve.

Become Certified as a DDN

Many positions don’t require a DDN certification, but this is valuable for your career. This shows that you have the commitment and expert knowledge to care for PWDs.

The Developmental Disabilities Nurse Association (DDNA) accepts the following work experience.

  • Nurse administrator for a developmental disabilities program (DDP)
  • Nurse consultant for developmental disabilities
  • Nurse educator for a DDP
  • Expanded nursing role including nurse practitioner for a community or group home DDP
  • Practicing nurse in an institutional or community DDP

Nurses may work with patients in other positions that meet the DDN role requirements. If you fall into this category, submit documentation of your job description to the DDNA. You may also include program brochures to further explain your work experience.

Caring for a developmentally disabled family member doesn’t meet the requirements. This is true whether you were paid for your services or not.

Pass the Exam

Once you’ve met all the pre-requisites, you’re ready to sit for the certification exam. You’ll take the test on a computer at a Prometric testing center. You have up to two hours to complete the exam.

When taking the exam, you can’t return to questions. Thus, it’s important to answer every question. Skipped questions count as an incorrect response.

When you pass the exam, you’ll receive an email showing your result. This will include a PDF document with your DDNA certification card and certificate. You may now use the credential CDDN or DDC.

This certification lasts for two years and requires renewal. You're also expected to be an active member of your professional organization as you work with patients with developmental disabilities.

DDN Roles

Once you’ve completed your certification, you’re qualified to work in a variety of settings. You may enjoy caring for patients in a disabilities services program. This type of facility works with children and adults with a range of challenges.

Examples include vision and/or hearing impairment, intellectual disabilities, or cerebral palsy. You’ll help create an individualized care plan and then work with the person to meet the goals. For some, this includes learning skills and removing social barriers.

Eldercare services strive to develop strategies to promote the highest independent lifestyle and quality of life. This involves personal care needs and working with family members who want them at home. Regular visits allow the nurse to watch for subtle changes and address issues as needed.

DDNs also work with the foster care system. Children with developmental disabilities may receive one-on-one care to work on independence skills. Case managers work closely with the foster family to ensure the child’s needs are met.

DDN salaries vary based on your position, experience, and location. In 2020, the median mental disability nurse salary for DDNs was $75,330 per year.

How to Become a Developmental Disability Nurse

This article provided an overview of how to become a developmental disability nurse. Integrity Inc. serves those with developmental disabilities or delays in the Little Rock, AR area. We offer a rewarding program for DDNs to work in.

Our clients range from children to adults. We’re committed to providing quality care for those with developmental disabilities. Click here now to apply for a position to become part of our team.

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