Every individual, no matter their age, gender, ethnicity, economic status or physical ability, has basic, fundamental needs in order to grow and develop into independent, healthy adults. In this regard, we are all the same. Beyond food, shelter and safety, we need to feel love and a sense of belonging. Satisfying these essential needs provides us with the necessary supportive foundation to help us move forward and reach our full potential. The absence of these critical elements can deeply affect our ability to experience a full and stable life.

One can delve deeper into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to understand the physiological and psychological impact on mental wellness when any one of these fundamental needs is missing. How each individual manages this challenging balance is what makes us all different…and for someone who was born with a developmental disability, they need assistance achieving that balance.

Shirley Zonnevylle, Director of Adult Day Training for Duvall Homes – a Florida nonprofit, which provides residential supportive care and programming for people with developmental disabilities – holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology with a Minor in Psychology and has 27 years experience working with mental health, social services and developmental disabilities. She recently commented that there remains a broad misconception that mental illness and developmental disability are one in the same.

“Individuals with a developmental disability typically have an IQ below 70, have limited intellectual functioning and communication, and are diagnosed at an early age,” said Zonnevylle. “The difference is that mental illness affects one’s mood, thinking and behavior, and can be diagnosed at any age,” added Zonnevylle.

Fundamental needs impact development during gestation, during infancy and throughout life’s many stages. Family members and professional support Specialists ensure that essential needs, including respect, esteem and self-actualization, are met when caring for people with a developmental disability. Once diagnosed (through an assessment of early childhood milestones), treatment goals are set to ensure there is balance in all aspects of the individual’s physical and mental wellbeing.

Recognizing and understanding the differences between an individual with a mental illness and one with a developmental disability, helps us to be informed advocates so that both have potential to be active and productive members of our community.

Lisa Habermehl

Director of Marketing & Special Projects, Duvall Homes, Inc.