Frequently Asked Questions

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Common Questions People ask About Intellectual Disability

1. What causes intellectual disability?

For many people the cause is unknown, but known causes of intellectual disability are:

  • Chromosomal or genetic anomaly e.g. Down Syndrome. This can sometimes cause other disabilities as well e.g. heart defect, hearing impairment
  • Extreme prematurity e.g. the baby may have brain damage from inadequate oxygen supply
  • Problems during pregnancy e.g. the mother develops rubella during early pregnancy, or results from drug or alcohol use
  • Illness or injury e.g. meningitis or accident which causes brain damage
  • Environmental causes e.g. the baby/child’s development may be affected by the external environment like lead pollution, lack of health care

Only about 1% of the general population has an intellectual disability, requiring specialist support services. Mostly the disability is mild ­only about 25% of people with intellectual disability have moderate to very high support needs.

To obtain relevant support services, people are required to be assessed under legal definition/criteria of intellectual disability.

It is important to remember, that intellectual disability is not a sickness and is different from a psychiatric illness or disability.

2. What is the potential for people with intellectual disability?

No-one knows how any of their children will develop or what they will achieve as adults. Like everyone else, people with intellectual disability have unique skills and difficulties. They also experience varying opportunities and environments in which to develop. Knowing the nature of the disability may suggest ways a person could develop, but it cannot foretell what that person will or won’t achieve.

History shows that many people with intellectual disability have been more limited by the low expectations of others and the resulting lack of stimulation and limited opportunities, rather than from expectations that are too high. People’s unique skills and abilities are often overlooked due to preoccupation with the disability and the presumption that people with intellectual disability are all the same.

Until recent years, people with intellectual disability were rarely included in community activities. Families were commonly advised to place their children into institutions, no matter the degree or nature of the disability. Children were also kept at home with limited community interaction.

 inclusive schooling113

Fortunately things are changing! There are increasing opportunities for people of all ages to learn and join in the full range of community activities alongside everyone else e.g. sport and recreation clubs, guides and scouts, Neighbour hood Houses, TAFE courses. Many children with intellectual disability go to a regular school, including those with very high support needs. In fact, the majority of families in Victoria now seek regular schooling for their child with intellectual disability.

“With each new beginning the butterfly emerged just a little more. The day she travelled on public transport alone, the day she went on her first date and the day she told me of her first romance” –

 Mother or daughter with down syndrome, (DSAV Integration Information Pack)

Adults with intellectual disability are increasingly seeking further training or work in the community in mainstream employment or are involved in activity programs. People now work in the catering and retail services, as quality checkers on production lines, as artists, as gardeners, as kindergarten assistants, as. advocates to others with disability and the list is growing!

Adults also live away from the family home in the community. Some people with intellectual disability marry and have children of their own.

3.Are all people with intellectual disability able to live in the community?

Quite simply, yes they can! Most people have always lived and continue to live with their families in their local community, albeit with limitations, irrespective of the nature or extent of their disability!

Successful independent living in the community is dependent on people with disability and their families having access to the right amount and type of support which provides secure and appropriate accommodation.

Everyone is entitled to grow up in and belong to an ordinary community and to be someone’s friend or neighbour. Vital neighbourhoods include people of all shapes, sizes, nationality, cultures, ages, religions and abilities.

Nowadays in Australia and in most countries, people with intellectual disability are increasingly being provided with opportunities to live independently of their family in the community. Institutional placement is mostly a thing of the past – institutions are gradually closing. People who have always lived in institutions, even those who have lived in locked wards, are successfully moving to the community.

Independent research unequivocally shows that when people with intellectual disability, including those with the highest support needs, have been provided with appropriate supports and opportunities to live in the community, they have gained new skills, and greater independence and their quality of life keeps on improving.

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