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Developmental Educator – The A to Z of Allied Health

Working with people who have a range of conditions including intellectual disability, acquired brain injury, physical and neurological disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders, the development educator profession represents a dynamic and unique area of practice, and the roles and tasks they engage in are diverse.

What does a developmental educator do?

Developmental educators are multidisciplinary health professionals who have expertise and specialised skills in working with people with developmental and/or acquired disabilities, as well as their families and carers. Taking a practical, holistic and individualised approach, developmental educators work with people with disabilities to promote their independence and optimise their quality of life.

Developmental educators work with people of all ages and stages across their lifespan. Working closely with people with disabilities and their families, carers and other healthcare professionals, developmental educators draw on multiple strategies, skills, and approaches to proactively manage issues that impact their ability to function and experience social inclusion.

Some of their key activities include:

  • Conducting assessments with people with disabilities to determine their learning and function-related goals
  • Developing behaviour support programs and putting these in place
  • Teaching life skills such as communication, self-care, community participation, recreation, employment, and social skills
  • More intense support coordination, counselling, and case management
  • Advocacy support
  • Supporting access to meaningful work and employment experiences
  • Providing education for families and carers around the impact of disability on a person’s daily function.

Where do developmental educators work?

The developmental educator field has evolved in Australia since the 1980s. Developmental educators appear to be an allied health profession unique to Australia, where they work in a range of settings including nationally and state-funded disability support services. With the establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in 2013, there are more opportunities for developmental educators to work privately in Australia.

Developmental educators can work in multiple different settings (e.g., health, human services, education, and employment) filling a diverse range of roles including employment support or consultancy, skills training, case management, specialist support coordination, respite coordination, behaviour intervention, research, policy development, management, and project work.

What are the professional, educational and regulatory frameworks for developmental educators?

Aspiring developmental educators in Australia undertake a minimum of four years’ university study to attain a bachelor’s degree level qualification in Disability Studies. Developmental educators can undertake further study at a graduate certificate, Master’s, or PhD level.

Developmental education is a self-regulated area of allied health practice. Developmental Educators Australia Incorporated (DEAI) is the professional body for developmental educators and sees to the accreditation of professional education programs. People who have completed an accredited tertiary level course are eligible for full membership with the DEAI and are then permitted to practice as a developmental educator. There is currently only one DEAI accredited bachelor’s degree and one Master’s degree, both are offered by Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia.

Workforce considerations for developmental educators

Developmental education was first formally recognised as an allied health profession in Australia in 2011. There are currently almost 80 developmental educators listed in the DEAI directory—the vast majority of these are located in South Australia, which is the home of the DEAI and the only currently accredited course for aspiring developmental educators.

Find out more about developmental educators

Here are some links to websites and resources for and about developmental educators: