How To Become a Developmental Disability Nurse (Plus Salary)

Steps to Become a Developmental Disability Nurse
  1. Earn a BSN degree. Earning a BSN degree takes four years for a full-time program. …
  2. Pass the NCLEX exam. …
  3. Gain experience as an RN. …
  4. Earn a nursing certification in intellectual and developmental disabilities nursing. …
  5. Find employment.

Careers in Learning Disability Nursing

How to become a developmental disability nurse

If youre interested in becoming a developmental disability nurse, follow these steps:

1. Earn an associate or bachelors degree

The first step to becoming a developmental disability nurse is to earn a degree in nursing. While most employers accept an associate degree, a bachelors in nursing is more highly sought after and can help your career growth. This degree gives you a good understanding of how to care for patients and handle certain medical emergencies.

2. Pass the NCLEX

3. Earn your nursing license

Each state has different licensing requirements so its important to check with your states licensing board to ensure you have the right paperwork and qualifications. Typically, you submit documentation of your nursing degree and a passing score on the NCLEX, undergo a background check and pay a fee. You also need to renew your nursing license based on your states regulations.

4. Gain experience

As a nurse, you can work at hospitals, group homes and schools to gain experience with patients. If your first job is as a general RN, try to find volunteer opportunities or experiences to become familiar with a range of disabilities. This can help you specialize your resume and find your ideal job in the field. To become a certified developmental disability nurse, you need to care for patients with developmental disabilities for at least two years before you can take the certification exam.

5. Consider the DDNA certification

What is a developmental disability nurse?

A developmental disability nurse helps patients have an improved quality of life and maintain their health. To do this, these nurses work with a team of other professionals such as the patients school or workplace, doctors and any specialized organizations involved. Nurses often spend a lot of time with their patients and analyze their behaviors and health indicators to make recommendations about treatments, like physical therapy, and care practices like which living situation is most beneficial.

Skills for a developmental disability nurse

Here are some skills that can help you succeed as a developmental disability nurse:

Medical knowledge

Having a good understanding of medical terminology, basic biology and common illnesses is important for developmental disability nurses to provide quality care to their patients. You may need to provide emergency medical attention to your patient or make treatment recommendations so its a good idea to refresh your medical knowledge often to ensure you have the most relevant information.


Compassion is vital to care occupations like developmental disability nursing. As a nurse, its important to treat your patients with kindness and respect because your decisions and actions have a significant effect on their lives. Practicing kindness in your job allows you to better connect with patients and offer the most beneficial options for their care.

Health and safety knowledge

Knowledge of health and safety standards, such as body fluid hazards and sanitation expectations, is integral to keeping yourself, your patients and other health care professionals safe. Courses in college and online can help you prepare for these situations and give you tips on how to handle any challenges that might happen while with a patient.


Developmental disability nurses typically have good verbal and written communication skills because they have to give updates and information to many members of the patients care team. Clear, direct communication allows involved parties, like doctors and family, to know what is going on with the patients life and what methods they may need to change.

Nonverbal communication

Besides typical forms of communication, developmental disability nurses may be skilled in reading nonverbal communication like body language and changes in emotion. This skill is important for connecting with and understanding patients who dont speak or write. When a nurse can engage with nonverbal patients, they can create better care plans and get to know the people under their care.

Research ability

Developmental disability nurses can use their research abilities to coordinate effective care and better inform families and patients. Nurses use research to find the most relevant information regarding patient care. For example, nurses might follow medical news to find studies or new care methods that can help them provide support to patients. They can also use research skills to learn about diagnoses they havent encountered before.

Familiarity with developmental disabilities

One of the most important skills for this type of nurse is to be familiar with various developmental disabilities. Since this role is specialized, employers expect these nurses to understand their patients and be comfortable offering support, recommendations and treatments. Nurses with more developmental disability experience have a higher chance of being hired in this role.

Average developmental disability nurse salary

Please note that none of the organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.


What does a developmental nurse do?

A Developmental Disability or Special Needs Nurse takes care of patients with intellectual or developmental disabilities, such as Down Syndrome and Autism.

Can nurses work with autistic children?

What Is a Developmental Disability Nurse? Known also as a Special Needs nurse, the Developmental Disability nurse works with patients or populations that have developmental disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, cerebral palsy and many other developmental disorders.

What is an IDD nurse?

What Does an IDD Nurse Do? Nurses in the field of IDD provide services that include consulting, administration, health promotion, assessment and referral, case management, medication administration, advocacy, care plan and risk plan development, and direct support staff training.

What state has highest RN salary?

What Does an IDD Nurse Do? Nurses in the field of IDD provide services that include consulting, administration, health promotion, assessment and referral, case management, medication administration, advocacy, care plan and risk plan development, and direct support staff training.

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