Intellectual disabilities are common throughout Australia. Roughly 450,000 people live with some form of it, which can affect their lives in unique and deeply personal ways. 

It’s important to remember that people living with disabilities are, first and foremost people – just like you or me, and share similar goals, challenges in life. 

So, what are these kinds of intellectual disabilities, how do they develop and what kind of support is available?

What is an intellectual disability? 

Intellectual disability is a term used to describe people who live with below-average intelligence and experience mental difficulties that affect everyday life. Intellectual disabilities can be categorised as being mild, moderate to severe, and can result in a variety of different symptoms and experiences for different people. 

Intellectual disabilities often affect people in two different ways:

  1. Adaptive behaviour refers to the everyday skills we use to function. Adaptive behaviours are the ability to communicate, socialise, and look after oneself.
  2. Intellectual functioning is related to IQ – one’s ability to solve problems, reason, judge, and think abstractly.

How are intellectual disabilities diagnosed?

Intellectual disabilities are not as easy to diagnose as physical disabilities. Often they are the result of genetic or birth defects – but often only become visible once someone reaches school age. 

Most intellectual disabilities are diagnosed with the help of doctors and clinical psychologists who are trained in measuring a child’s behaviours and abilities in their developing years. 

Intellectual disabilities can also be measured and diagnosed through an IQ test. An IQ score of below 70 often indicates the presence of some intellectual difficulties, while a score below 55 points qualifies as an intellectual deficit as according to Australia’s National Disability Insurance Agency. 

Common causes of intellectual disabilities 

Just like with all disabilities – the causes of intellectual disability are diverse. Here are some common causes to be aware of:

  • Inherited through genetics
  • Complications at birth
  • Brain injury 
  • Environmental factors

What kinds of intellectual disabilities are there?

Intellectual disabilities are as varied and diverse as their causes and symptoms. No two people will experience any of the following conditions in the same way. That is what makes disability so complex, but also unique and inherently human.

Down Syndrome 

Down syndrome is a common genetic disorder caused by the presence of an extra Chromosome 21 within the DNA. Despite some misconceptions, Down syndrome is not a disease, and cannot be cured. In Australia, 1 in 1100 babies will be born with Down syndrome, meaning roughly 290 babies with Down syndrome are born every year. People living with Down syndrome experience intellectual difficulties, distinct physical characteristics, developmental delays, and increased vulnerability to various common diseases. 

Fragile X syndrome

Fragile X syndrome is one of the more common intellectual disabilities out there. This inherited disability is caused by a genetic mutation within the X chromosome. In Australia, Fragile X syndrome affects 1 in 4000 males and 1 in 6000 females. People living with Fragile X syndrome experience behavioural, intellectual, and physical abnormalities that can impact everyday life. 

Prader-Willi Syndrome

This rare genetic disorder only affects roughly 1 in 20000 people, but its complexity is by no means easy to understand. Caused by irregularities in chromosome 15, it affects people in a variety of different ways. Some common effects are non-stop hunger in children around 2 years of age, shorter stature, and other intellectual and learning difficulties. 

Are learning disabilities the same?

Learning disabilities are often mistaken to be the same as intellectual disabilities – which is not the case. While both intellectual disabilities can affect learning, they are primarily concerned with a persons’ cognitive function and IQ level. Learning disabilities, on the other hand, are characterised by difficulty learning or grasping subjects such as math or spelling at school. 

What support is available?

In Australia, people with an intellectual disability will have a range of services available to them in order to make life more manageable over the long term. These include support through school systems, family assistance, and of course, the National Disability Insurance Scheme or NDIS. 

Depending on the circumstances, there may be a few different support networks available to help people live more active and rewarding lives. 

How NDIS plan management can help

Anyone living with an intellectual disability, or any disability for that matter, faces more challenges in day-to-day life than anyone else. Having the right support in place is therefore critical. And NDIS plan management is one way of making the journey easier. 

If you’re wondering how do I register for the NDIS? Or you might simply have questions about what to do once you or someone you know has been diagnosed with an ID, don’t hesitate to get in contact with an NDIS plan manager Sydney. They’ll be happy to run you through your options and make sure you’re able to get access to better-quality support going forward.