National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (NDDAM) is observed in March in the U.S. This class of disabilities can refer to impairments in learning and behavior, such as autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and impairments in physical and/or intellectual functioning such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and Down syndrome. The campaign seeks to raise awareness about including people with developmental disabilities (DD) in all facets of community life. It also creates awareness of the difficulties that people with disabilities still face in fitting into the communities in which they live.

A Short History of NDDAM

Before the 19th century, people with DD were treated violently and lived in poor, unhygienic environments. Many were ‘passed on,’ a practice of carting off people to be dropped in another town. More awareness about DD spread in this century both in England and in the U.S.

St. Louis Center circa 1960

St. Louis Center was built on 180 acres in Chelsea MI as a school for exceptional boys.

Social reformers such as Dorothy Dix became leading advocates of the human rights of people with DD. Since it was socially unacceptable for a woman to speak in Congress, she asked another reformer, Samuel Gridley Howe, to present her argument for rehabilitating people with DD. The motion was passed in the Senate and the House of Representatives but was vetoed by President Pierce. Even the Romantic poets of England such as Byron, Wordsworth, and Keats, who highlighted the goodness of leading a simple life close to nature, were instrumental in prompting authorities to situate asylums in the countryside.

Other reformers and educationists such as Edouard Seguin believed in the benefits of sensory and muscular training to force the central nervous system to “take over” and perform duties that children were otherwise unable to. Maria Montessori was influenced by his methods while working with children with DD and other children. The nature of training and institutions continued to evolve over the century, leading to an adverse development. Custodial institutions started being established by the end of the century, which essentially segregated pupils from the rest of the community. It was only after the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1970s and 1980s that Ronald Reagan declared March the month for National Developmental Disabilities Awareness in 1987.

How can you observe Disability Awareness Month?
a man with disabilities pets a dog

Today, St. Louis Center is a Village. A place where persons of all abilities can learn and thrive.

Each March, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), and the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) work together to highlight the ways in which people with DD unite to form strong communities.

Some Ideas of how you can take action during the month of March : Learn about the rights of persons with DD; volunteer at an organization that serves persons with DD (like St. Louis Center); or donate to make a difference. Use our form below.

(information in this post is courtesy of

Keep in eye out for stories of how St. Louis Center residents engage with their community and make it a better place to live.

If you would like to take action during National Developmental Disabilities Month, please consider a gift of any amount to the Center by submitting the secure online form below.