What is childhood disability? A person with a disability is unable to perform certain functions as well as most others. The disability may be physical, it may involve senses like seeing or hearing, it may involve the inability to think clearly, or it may involve mental health. Many people with a disability have full abilities in other areas.
Disability is common – about one in 20 preschoolers and about one in 10 school age children have a disability. There are many types of disability, including disabilities that children are born with, disabilities that develop after birth and disabilities that are caused by injury.
Children with a disability may have special needs and require early intervention and as much support as possible.
Common disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome and intellectual and physical disabilities create challenges with thinking, behaviour and skill development.
Disability in childhood can have a lifelong impact on a person’s physical, mental and emotional health, as well as their social situation. Children with a disability may have special needs, particularly regarding health and education, and may need to negotiate significant social and environmental barriers in order to fully participate in everyday life.
A congenital disorder is a condition that is inherited, or caused by environmental factors, that is present from birth. Common congenital disorders include:
- intellectual disability – where a child is less able to think and develop new skills
- Down syndrome – a common genetic condition that causes intellectual disability
- cerebral palsy – a physical disability that makes it hard for a child to control how their body moves
- Fragile X syndrome – an inherited condition that causes intellectual disability and learning and behaviour problems.
Find out more about congenital disorders.
Developed after birth
Some disabilities develop after birth. These include hearing problems, heart conditions, and blood, metabolism and hormone disorders. Detecting these problems soon after birth can prevent them from becoming more serious physical, intellectual, visual or auditory disabilities.
A reliable diagnosis of autism can be made in children younger than 2 years of age. Autism affects about 1 in 100 children. Although its causes are not fully understood, autism has been linked to genetic factors. You can check out our another post What is autism in children: Symptoms and Causes of autism.
Caused by injury
Physical, mental and behavioural disabilities can occur after when a trauma or injury (such as falling from a height) affects the brain. Other causes of acquired brain injury include loss of oxygen (for example, asthma or after when almost drowning), infection (such as meningitis) and stroke.
Severe physical injuries, such as spinal cord injury or losing an arm or leg in an accident can cause physical disability.
Developmental delay or disability?
Developmental disabilities are different to developmental delays. A child with a developmental delay is developing skills more slowly than most other children. This does not mean they have a disability.
Not all children develop at the same rate, so some children naturally take longer to develop than others. Developmental delays can be short or long-term and can happen in any area of your child’s development.
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