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Intellectual Disability

An intellectual disability can mean difficulty communicating, learning and retaining information

Intellectual disabilities develop before adulthood and can affect a person’s ability to learn, communicate, retain information, and undertake work or leisure activities

An intellectual disability may be caused by genetic conditions, problems during pregnancy and birth, illness, or environmental factors.

An intellectual disability can impact significantly with daily living such as self-care. Examples of intellectual disability include:

Intellectual disability girl smiling

Developmental Delay

The term ‘developmental delay’ describes when a child is slower to reach developmental milestones than other children, such as in the way they move, communicate, think and learn or through their behaviour and interaction with other children.

There can be any number of reasons for this and professionals only use the term ‘developmental delay’ until the cause of the delay is identified. Developmental milestones are the physical and behavioural signs of development in infants and children. Rolling over, sitting, walking and talking are all considered milestones in normal development.

Developmental delay can be temporary or permanent — persistent developmental delays are also called developmental disabilities and can be signs of more serious conditions such as cerebral palsy or developmental disorders that include autism, intellectual disability and hearing impairment.

For more information, please visit The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network.

Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is a common chromosome disorder. One of every 700-900 babies born worldwide will have Down Syndrome, although this number is lower in Australia.

People with Down Syndrome have:

  • some characteristic physical features
  • some health and development challenges
  • some level of intellectual disability

Because no two people are alike, each of these things will vary from one person to another.

Most of the young people growing up with Down syndrome today will lead quite ordinary lives in the community. Some people with Down syndrome may not need much help to lead an ordinary life, while others may require a lot of support.

For more information please visit Down Syndrome Australia

Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS)

PWS is a rare and very complex, non-inherited genetic disorder. The commonly observed characteristics include very low lean body mass and early onset childhood obesity, weak muscles, insatiable hunger, extreme obesity, intellectual disability and anxiety-driven behaviour.

Symptoms caused by PWS vary throughout the person’s lifetime and vary in severity from person to person. Beginning sometime in childhood, the brain fails to regulate appetite normally. For a person with PWS there is a constant pre-occupation with food accompanied by an unrelenting, overwhelming, overriding physiological drive to eat. Normal satiety (the feeling of fullness after eating) does not exist.

For more information, please visit the PWS Association of Australia.

Fragile X Syndrome (FXS)

FXS is a genetic condition causing intellectual disability, behavioural and learning challenges and various physical characteristics. It is also the most common single-gene cause of autism worldwide.

People born with FXS may experience a wide range of physical, developmental, behavioural, and emotional difficulties, however, the level of severity can be quite varied. Some common signs include a developmental delay, intellectual disability, communication difficulties, anxiety, ADHD, and behaviours similar to autism such as hand flapping, difficulty with social interactions, difficulty processing sensory information, and poor eye contact.

For more information, visit The Fragile X Association of Australia.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Alcohol can cause damage to the unborn child at any time during pregnancy, even before a pregnancy has been confirmed.

The level of harm is dependent on the amount and frequency of alcohol use which may be impacted by factors such as intergenerational alcohol use by either parent, parentage and health of the mother (nutrition, tobacco use, mental health) and environmental factors such as stress (exposure to violence, poverty). FASD is often not noticed until the child reaches school age when behavioural and learning difficulties become more evident.

The majority of children and adults who have FASD live with significant cognitive, behavioural, health and learning difficulties, including problems with memory, attention, cause and effect reasoning, impulsivity, receptive language and adaptive functioning difficulties.  These difficulties are lifelong and have a significant impact on behaviour.

For more information, visit National organisation for fetal alcohol syndrome disorders

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