How Much Does a Developmental Disability Nurse Make?

Maura Deering, J.D.
Updated January 11, 2023
How much does a developmental disability nurse make? Salaries fall in line with other registered nurse specialties. Explore this guide for details.
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A child with special needs due to chromosome 8P inversion duplication syndrome with a nurse.Credit: FatCamera / E+ / Getty Images

More than 40 million people in the U.S. have developmental disabilities and need daily assistance with communication, hygiene, and mobility. Caring for individuals with developmental disabilities can forge strong bonds between nurses, patients, and family members.

A specialty area of registered nursing, developmental disability nurse salaries average nearly $70,000 per year, according to Payscale data from May 2022. In addition, projected employment growth could reach a 9% increase for registered nurses (RNs) from 2020-2030.

Average Salary for Developmental Disability Nurses

Developmental disability nurse pay averages $68,237 per year, or $31.04 an hour. ZipRecruiter lists developmental disability sub-specialties that pay higher salaries, such as developmental-behavioral pediatricians at $74,694 and registered learning disability nurses at $73,272.

Geography plays a role in developmental disability nurse salaries. Cities with a higher cost-of-living, such as those in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, tend to pay higher wages. Supply and demand also influence developmental disability nurse salary rates and, likely, the higher-than-average salaries in Alaska.

Average Annual Salary
Source:PayScale, April 2022

Average Hourly Wage
Source:PayScale, April 2022

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The Highest Paying States for Developmental Disability Nursing

The Pacific states of California, Hawaii, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington pay the highest RN salaries, which includes developmental disability nurses. Annual RN pay ranges between $96,980 and $125,340.

The states with the highest annual pay for all registered nurses are:

Highest-Paying States
StateAverage Salary

Source:U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

How Do Developmental Disability Nurse Salaries Compare to Other RN Specialties?

Developmental disability nursing is just one of the many nursing specializations available. Of the more than 100 specialty areas, development disability nursing salaries land in the lower third. Licensed practical/vocational nurses and school nurses earn an average of $49,000 per year on the lowest end, while nurse anesthetists and nurse CEOs sit at the other end of the spectrum, with salaries approaching $200,000 a year.

Similar nursing specialties to developmental disability nursing include home healthcare nursing with average annual earnings of $65,090, long-term care nursing with $64,370, and school nursing at $49,080.

4 Ways to Increase Pay As a Developmental Disability Nurse

In addition to geographical locations, developmental disability nurses can increase their salaries by becoming certified, earning a higher degree, pursuing administrative experience, and changing their practice setting.

  1. 1

    Consider Pursuing Certifications

    The Developmental Disabilities Nurses Association offers certification for RNs and licensed practical/vocational nurses specializing in intellectual and developmental disabilities. Certification shows potential employers and patients that a nurse has obtained in-depth knowledge and training in their practice area, and it can lead to pay increases. Certification requires an examination.

  2. 2

    Increase Education Level

    A master’s degree can lead to a career as a development disabilities nurse practitioner. A category of advanced practice registered nurses, nurse practitioners provide primary care services to their patients and can bring in median annual salaries of $123,780, or $59.52 an hour, according to the BLS.

  3. 3

    Gain Experience in Administrative Roles

    Medical and health services managers, including nurse managers in hospitals and nursing home administrators, earn median annual salaries of $101,340, or $48.72 per hour. These professionals hold at least a bachelor’s degree, along with several years of RN and administrative or clinical experience. Some healthcare organizations offer leadership training.

  4. 4

    Switch Practice Setting

    According to ZipRecruiter, the average developmental disability nurse salary for RNs who focus on staff development or coordination ranges from $76,146 to $94,249. RNs who work in office administration services can also make more money, averaging $96,630 per year.

Frequently Asked Questions About Developmental Disability Nurse Salaries

question-mark-circleHow much does a developmental disability nurse make per year?

The average salary, according to May 2022 PayScale data for RNs, totals $68,237 per year. Certified developmental disability nurses can average $79,000 each year, with leadership positions paying up to $124,000.

question-mark-circleIs it worth it to become a developmental disability nurse?

RNs in all areas of nursing, including developmental and intellectual disabilities, are in demand, and this trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Working with patients who have developmental disabilities can be especially rewarding and can improve their daily lives and those of their families.

question-mark-circleWhich workplace settings pay developmental disability nurses the most?

The highest paying work settings for RNs, which includes developmental disability nurses, include hospitals with an average wage of $85,020 per year and office administrative services, which averages $96,630.

question-mark-circleDo developmental disability nurses need certification?

RNs do not need to become certified, but doing so can increase their average pay by about $10,000 per year. Nurse practitioners do need certification to obtain their advanced practice registered nursing licenses from most state nursing boards.

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