“What do you want to be when you grow up?” has got to be one of the most common questions a person is ever asked. Throughout my life I have considered many different career options including a neurologist specializing in developmental disabilities, a special education teacher, an occupational therapist, the list goes on and on. However, one thing has remained static throughout all of these career possibilities: My desire to serve individuals with disabilities.
When talking about any specific population, I think it is always important to bring in some numbers. So, here we go:
- In the United States, a developmental disability is defined as a disability that begins before the individual reaches 22 years of age, and it will usually last throughout the individual’s life.
- In the state of Montana, a disability is defined as a developmental disability if it is present before the individual reaches 18 years of age.
- There are 4.5 million individuals in the United States with a developmental disability. This accounts for over 10% of the American population!
Because I have decided on a major in Food and Nutrition, the natural career path for me to take is exploring the nutritional needs of individuals with disabilities. Besides loving the field of nutrition and working with individuals with disabilities, there are some other very positive reasons to choose a career in this field:
- An increased need in direct services for individuals due to an increasing population: The National Organization on Disabilities is putting a focus on the increased life expectancy of individuals with disabilities and home and medical care improve. In fact, life expectancy for individuals with disabilities has increased to the point that there is expected to be little difference in the life expectancy of a young adult based on whether or not they have a developmental disability.
- Lots of research is still needed: While growth charts are available for some groups of individuals with disabilities (Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, and Prader-Willi syndrome), these charts were developed using very small sample sizes and could be made to be more representative with more research. Also, growth charts still need to be created for groups of individuals with other disabilities than those mentioned above.
- And lastly, “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that nutrition services provided by registered dietitians and dietetic technicians, registered, are essential components of comprehensive care for all people with developmental disabilities and special health care needs.”
So to end, an adorable video:
…and a question: What do you want to be when you grow up??
To read the Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formally the American Dietetic Association) on nutritional services for people with developmental disabilities and special health care needs, please visit: http://www.eatright.org/About/Content.aspx?id=8379
For more information on the nutritional needs of individuals with disabilities according to the Montana Disability and Health Program, please visit: http://mtdh.ruralinstitute.umt.edu/Publications/StandardsStaff.htm