Learning Disability Nursing

These nurses, sometimes called special needs nurses or learning disability nurses, work with patients who have physical or mental disabilities. They receive special training in addition to the standard LPN, ADN or BSN nursing degrees to help patients who have chronic or permanent physical or mental disabilities. The disabilities are usually severe, and the work these nurses perform is an important part of enabling their patients to live an active, fulfilling, and possibly more independent life. Their patients often have conditions that they were born with or that developed early on in life, and they can include autism, spina bifida, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, or severe behavioral disorders, to name a few examples.

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A certified developmental disabilities nurse (CDDN) may work with many patients in a group home, institution, long-term care residential facility, or can visit individuals in their own home. They may work with a variety of patients, or assist the same patient every day. They help them go about their daily lives, managing their limitations and aiding them in achieving as much independence and autonomy as possible. Their duties can include basic caretaking tasks like helping them dress, eat, or take care of bodily functions. They also perform medical duties like performing lab tests, taking vital signs, and other duties that nurses generally perform in clinics or doctors’ offices.

The Developmental Disabilities Nursing Association offers a certification exam to become a certified developmental disability nurse (CDDN). Certification is rarely a requirement in nursing once you are a licensed nurse, yet it is always a very shrewd step in career advancement. Certification not only better prepares you for your specialty, but it signals your dedication to the field and your commitment to keeping up with the field’s developments and advancements. Patients and potential employers alike will appreciate the proof of you abilities in the form of voluntary certification through an accredited institution. In order to become certified in developmental disability nursing, you will have to meet the eligibility requirements before taking the exam. This includes a minimum of 4,000 hours of work experience in developmental disabilities nursing as either a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse within the past five years. Additionally, certification needs to be renewed every two years. You can become certified if you are a registered nurse, or as a licensed practical nurse or vocational nurse.

To get started in learning disability nursing/developmental disability nursing, get the nursing education required so that you can get the necessary experience and ultimately become a certified developmental disability nurse. You can enter this specialty with various levels of education. You can work as a developmental disabilities nurse if you are a licensed, practical nurse (LPN), which requires usually a year of education from a vocational or technical school, or community or junior college. These nurses work under the supervision of physicians and other registered nurses. You can also earn your Associate Degree in Nursing or your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to become a registered nurse. Upon graduating, you will need to pass your state’s board of nursing licensing examination (NCLEX) as well as complete any other requirements set by the state you wish to practice in. Find Nursing Schools in your state to learn more.

Your salary in developmental disability nursing will vary greatly based on the type of nursing degree you earn. The average annual salary of an LPN was $39,030 in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the average annual salary of an RN was $62,450. In uncertain times, healthcare is one sector that will continue to grow. In fact nursing is one of the fastest growing careers, with the BLS projecting that registered nurses will grow 22% in the period between 2008 and 2018. The use of specialized nurses will also grow, as it is a more efficient and cost-effective way to meet the healthcare needs of a population will continue to grow. If you think this area of nursing would be fulfilling for you and is one where you think your personal strengths will meet the need for patience, support, and encouragement, then be sure to get started on earning your degree or certification. The healthcare sector needs an influx of committed developmental disability nurses, and now may be a good time to consider the benefits of pursing a nursing education and certification in this field.

(Sources: Developmental Disabilities Nursing Association, the Bureau of Labor Statistics)