Step 1 of 6 – Review Goals and Standards

Perspective and rationale for certification

It has been estimated that at least one percent of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with an intellectual/developmental disability (IDD). This estimate is felt to be a conservative figure. To address this, a vast field of professionals — nurses, psychologists, physicians, social workers, counselors, clergy, psychiatrists, recreational specialists, and many others — evolved to form the IDD specialty. Although many disciplines come together to address the needs of individuals with IDD, it is clear that each discipline must have its own standards.

To keep pace with the growing variety of practice modalities, the activities and functions of the IDD nurse have not only multiplied, but have grown more complex. To be effective in the habilitation and treatment of persons with IDD, an IDD nurse should possess a broad range of knowledge, covering a large number of areas, and should be competent in performing all of the many professional functions that IDD nursing requires.

Nursing has a long history of working with people with IDD. In recent years it has become apparent that nursing expertise in IDD is not ensured by traditional nursing education programs or in other nursing practice areas. To create a professional support, networking, and advocacy system and to develop national standards for certification within the IDD nursing specialty, the Developmental Disabilities Nurses Association was formed.

This organization is composed of nurses from various academic and experiential backgrounds who, based on clinical experience and education specific to IDD, have the unique skills that are most effective in providing nursing services to people with IDD. Within the discipline of nursing, they have come together to establish a standard through certification to enhance the education and experience level of nurses providing expert care to individuals with IDD.

Only those who have been certified by the Developmental Disabilities Nurses Association (DDNA) may use the title Certified Developmental Disabilities Nurse, designated by the appellations “RN, CDDN” or the title Licensed Practical Nurse Developmental Disabilities Certified, designated by the appellations “LPN, DDC” and Licensed Vocational Nurse Developmental Disabilities Certified, designated by the appellations “LVN, DDC.”

Goals of certification

Certification has been established nationally by DDNA to achieve these goals:

  1. To increase the effectiveness of nursing services rendered to individuals with IDD.
  2. To provide a method whereby professional standards can be established, maintained, and continually updated through a system of competency-based testing and professional development hours required for certification and certification renewal.
  3. To expand public recognition of the nursing needs of individuals with IDD and of the value of the IDD nurse in meeting those needs as a member of the interdisciplinary team.
  4. To encourage the IDD nurse to grow in knowledge in the specialty area.
  5. To enhance the skills and competence of the IDD nurse.

Purpose of certification

  1. To develop and coordinate a system of evaluation and subsequent certification for IDD nurses. This requires professional standards of competence, knowledge, and skill from those who are certified.
  2. To promote and advance the profession of IDD nursing to lead to the establishment of a professional code of ethics and adoption of standards of competence, to ensure the highest standard of care for persons with IDD, and to promote continuous quality improvement in the care of individuals with IDD.
  3. To promote, support, and evaluate comprehensive training and education programs designed to increase the competence and capabilities of IDD nurses.
  4. To offer professional consultation and education related to the advancement of IDD nurse certification, and to cooperate and collaborate with other interested persons and organizations in pursuit of this purpose.

It has become apparent that expertise in IDD nursing is not ensured by traditional nursing education programs nor is it guaranteed by practice in the field of IDD. The recognized role and function of the IDD nurse has evolved out of self-education, desire, experimentation, trial and error, self-motivation, intuition, and the desire to gain an expertise in understanding and addressing the unique and often complex needs of individuals with IDD. Developmental disabilities nurses come from a variety of backgrounds, some with academic credentials and some with experience in the field. Because of this, certification from DDNA is based upon competency rather than academic or professional background. Competency is demonstrated through completion of the certification testing process.

The “RN, CDDN” credential, the “LPN, DDC” credential, and the “LVN, DDC” credential are advanced standing certificates: each requires previous work experience in developmental disabilities nursing before admission to candidacy.

Certification is voluntary and is not intended as a license to practice, nor as a qualification for a certain position; however, an employer, civil service system, state licensing body, or third party underwriter may accept it as a preferred or alternate credential.

Your role as a certified IDD nurse

In establishing standards for the certification of IDD nurses, it is necessary to define the role of the IDD nurse. This role is distinct from the roles of others who may provide additional professional services to the same person in the same setting.

An IDD nurse is a person, who by the virtue of special knowledge, training, and experience, is uniquely able to inform, motivate, guide, assist, and care for individuals with IDD.

In this process, it is the primary responsibility of the IDD nurse to be able to recognize which problems are beyond the scope of his/her training, skill, or competency and to be willing and able to refer the individual to other appropriate professional services.

The professional activities of the IDD nurse will, out of necessity, cover a broad range of approaches, techniques, and modalities appropriate for the infinite variety of characteristics that include the lifestyle and developmental levels of individuals with IDD.

Tasks of an IDD nurse

The tasks which the IDD nurse performs and the areas in which she or he is expected to be competent will generally fall into the following categories:

  • Staff education/training
  • Direct care
  • Supervision of staff
  • Assessment
  • Individualized Service or Education Plans (ISPs or IEPs)
  • Consumer education/training
  • Service coordination/case management
  • Quality assurance
  • Documentation/record-keeping
  • Medical or other health-related appointments
  • Medication administration and treatments
  • Research
  • Consultation
  • Interdisciplinary team meetings
  • Diagnostics testing
  • Advocacy/consumer rights
  • Networking/professional issues
  • Program development
  • Counseling

There are a number of other activities IDD nurses may be expected to perform. While such activities may be important to a particular agency, they may not be considered an essential part of the function of the IDD nurse for professional certification purposes.

Personal attributes of an IDD nurse

  1. Ability to relate comfortably, confidently, and effectively with individuals with IDD;
  2. Sincere interest in supporting individuals with IDD and in the provision of humanitarian, sophisticated, and quality care;
  3. Ability to pinpoint problems and implement effective action toward their solution;
  4. Ability to motivate change in others;
  5. Ability to work in team situation with other professionals in various disciplines and with individuals with IDD;
  6. A positive attitude toward individuals with IDD and their care;
  7. Adherence to values and ethics commonly associated with professionals having access to confidential and sensitive client/consumer information;
  8. Ability to serve all individuals without discrimination as to race, color, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, or abilities.