Excited phone calls to parents and squeals of joy helped two second-year Northeast Ohio Medical students and close friends, Abby Schaub and Maria Knaus, celebrate the Developmental Disabilities Awareness Club (DDAC) winning the Diversity Student Organization of the Year Award. Rajini Poth, Ph.D, associate director of diversity and Dana Peterson, Ph.D., assistant professor of anatomy and neurobiology nominated the club for this honor.
Deeply rooted passions motivated the friends to form the DDAC within one year of being on campus. Schaub’s mother is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician who treats children with Autism spectrum disorder and Down syndrome. Knaus’ sister, Bridgett, was born with a rare chromosomal disease.
“People are often exposed to people with disabilities, but not many people know how to interact with them, even people in the medical field,” said Schaub. “There is a lot of unfamiliarity.”
To help raise awareness, Knaus and Schaub invited various speakers such as John C. Duby, M.D., professor and chair of the department of pediatrics at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine and Bridgett, Knaus’ sister, to speak to the group.
“By bringing in speakers and having them interact with fellow students, we can raise awareness, provide more exposure and decrease the unfamiliarity surrounding the field,” said Knaus.
The club sponsored Rare Diseases Week and brought in a family to speak, whose son has Apert syndrome. Watching the little boy play with toys on the ground, despite everything he has gone through, was very inspiring to students. “Hearing the stories and seeing Nathan playing, it is hard not to become involved,” said Schaub. “It is almost instinctual.”
This year Knaus and Schaub are transitioning the club to the next group of dedicated officers, since they won’t be on campus much longer. They want the club to gain more members who are passionate about raising awareness about the field of developmental disabilities.
“We want doctors working in primary care to know what to look for in kids-- as well as know how to refer parents to specialists for help,” said Knaus. “It is important not only for developmental pediatricians to know the signs, but also every doctor.”
Schaub hopes to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a developmental pediatrician. Knaus is still undecided. No matter what area she chooses, she is passionate about helping children with these special needs.