Peoples with an intellectual disability

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Peoples with an intellectual disability

Description of intellectual disabilities

There are many definitions used to explain, define and determine an intellectual disability, but each is often limited in providing an accurate representation of this particular disability. An intellectual disability should not be confused with a psychiatric disability or mental illness, although a person with an intellectual disability may also have a psychiatric disability.

Examples of intellectual disability


  • Down syndrome
  • autism
  • developmental disability

Examples of psychiatric disability/mental illness include:

  • schizophrenia
  • anxiety disorders
  • bipolar disorder (manic depression)
  • anorexia
  • post traumatic stress disorder

While definitions of intellectual disabilities may provide some insight into the disability itself, it is important that these definitions do not label the person and that generalised assumptions are not made.

A person with an intellectual disability may also have a print disability, hearing impairment or physical disability.

Intellectual disability (mental retardation) is described by the (DSM-IV) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as the presence of a sub-average general intellectual functioning associated with or resulting in impairments in adaptive behaviour. The onset of this disability occurs before the age of 18.

The level of intellectual disability is classified by intelligence quotient (IQ) scores and ranges from mild to profound. A person with an intellectual disability may:

have difficulty with both expressive and receptive language (that is both
speaking and understanding what is being communicated)

  • have a physical disability
  • have difficulty in learning and concentrating
  • display behaviour that would appear to be inappropriate
  • may be unable to read or write
  • may be unable to live independently
  • may have difficulty in participating in group settings

There is a high incidence of epilepsy among people with an intellectual disability.

C A U S E S  A N D  P R E V A L E N C E

Causes of intellectual disabilities are many. They include an abnormal number of chromosomes, gene defects, maternal infections, Rh incompatibility, head trauma, anoxia, birth injury, early infant infection and, deprived normal development and growth experiences.

Intellectual disability is twice as common in males as in females. It is estimated that 2.3 percent of the Australian population have some level
of intellectual disability. In the state of Victoria it is believed that approximately one percent of the population has some level of intellectual disability, with the Department of Human Services being aware of 60 percent of these people.

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