Myths and Misconceptions about People with Developmental Disabilities

Young woman with cerebral palsy in college class.

Despite all the efforts to increase awareness about Individuals with developmental disabilities, they still battle rampant misperceptions and myths. These negative perceptions encourage stereotypes that are unfair, unfounded, and even cruel. Individuals may even lose opportunities to participate in activities or hold jobs because of the notion that they are unable to fit in or live up to the challenge.

Here are eight misconceptions about people with developmental disabilities: 

They cannot learn.

Like every neurotypical person, individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities are continuously learning. They can learn life skills, academic skills, social skills, and more. Their condition does not stop them from acquiring new knowledge and skills with proper education and training.

They don’t feel love.

People with developmental disabilities have a great capacity for love. They may show their emotions and feelings differently from others or have difficulty expressing themselves, but they love and feel connected to their families, caregivers, friends, and others. 

They are all alike.

People with and without developmental disabilities are all human beings — and all human beings are unique, possessing their own personalities, traits, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and stories. Even people with the same condition are completely different from one another.

Their disability defines them.

The disability does not make the person. Their symptoms cause them to adapt how they do things or experience some limitations, but inside, they’re just people like your neighbors, friends, and family. 

They cannot play sports.

There are over 5 million Special Olympics athletes around the world — proof that individuals with developmental disabilities can participate in sports and other physical activities, despite their different abilities. Additionally, there are tons of physical, emotional, and mental benefits of playing sports for people with a developmental disability.

They cannot start a family.

People with developmental disabilities can definitely get married and have children and grandchildren of their own. While their condition is a factor, and the chances of passing down inherited gene mutations are a consideration, many of them have relationships and families already.

They are a burden to those around them.

While families and individuals with developmental disabilities may do things differently than others, they still care, love, and enjoy quality time together. Though these individuals may also need some sort of assistance, that does not equal dependency. They can opt to be responsible for themselves.

They cannot lead productive lives.

People think that those with developmental disabilities cannot be productive at their jobs, when in fact, so many individuals with disabilities have fulfilling jobs, supportive families, and great friends. They can actually learn, play, work, have meaningful relationships, pursue interests, and have fulfilling lives.