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Disability types

There are many different types of disability. Different disabilities will impact a person's involvement in study or work in different ways. Even people who have the same disability type will not experience their disability in the same way. It is important to remember that every person with a disability is an individual and will have their own specific experiences and disability related needs. The best way to find out what they are is to ask the person with disability themselves!

This section provides an overview of some of the main disability types and links to further information.

What are autism spectrum disorders?

Autism spectrum disorders are lifelong developmental disabilities. They are characterised by difficulties in:

  • social communication which may include challenges in:
    • understanding and use of non-verbal communication
    • forming friendships
    • social and emotional responsiveness
    • language development
    • initiating and sustaining conversations
  • fixated interests and repetitive behaviors, which may include:
    • unusually specific interests
    • repetitive body movements
    • non-functional routines
    • sensory sensitivities

People with an autism spectrum disorder may also have an intellectual or learning disability, language disorder or ADHD.

Prior to 2013, diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders included classification of different types; autistic disorder, Asperger's disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified. Since May 2013, however, diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder are not classified into subtypes. Instead, diagnoses will include a severity ranking of level 1, 2, or 3, based on how much support a person needs.

For more information:

What is a chronic medical condition?

A wide range of medical conditions may impact on a person's work and require reasonable adjustment. Chronic medical conditions are long term – they may last for months or years, or be life-long.

Examples of chronic medical conditions include

  • Diabetes
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Cystic Fibrosis Cancer
  • Crohn's Disease
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Epilepsy

For more information:

What is hearing impairment?

  • ranges from mild hearing loss to profound deafness
  • can be caused by a genetic condition, illness, trauma, or natural aging
  • people with hearing impairment may use hearing aids, lip-reading, Auslan (Australian sign language) or a combination to assist with communication

For more information:

What is a intellectual disability?

  • a disability affecting cognition
  • people with intellectual disability may have difficulties with learning, communication, daily living skills, information processing, social functioning and problem solving
  • around 3% of Australians have an intellectual disability
  • around 1.8% of Australians have an intellectual disability which leads to severe or profound activity limitations
  • intellectual disabilities are life-long, and must be identified before the age of 18
  • examples of intellectual disabilities include Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, Prader-Willi Syndrome, Angelman Syndrome

For more information

What is a learning disability?

  • a varied group of conditions which impact on the development and use of listening, spelling, reading, writing, reasoning or mathematical skills
  • has a significant effect on learning but is NOT an indicator of intelligence
  • learning disabilities include:
    • Dyslexia – difficulty with language processing
    • Dyspraxia – difficulty with fine motor skills or coordination
    • Dysgraphia – difficulty with writing, spelling or composition
    • Visual processing disorder, eg. Scotopic sensitivity
    • Auditory processing disorder

For more information

What is a mental illness?

  • a varied group of conditions that significantly affect how a person feels, thinks behaves, and interacts with other people
  • close to 1 in 5 Australians will have a mental illness in any year. Nearly half of all Australians will experience mental illness during their lifetime.
  • mental illnesses are diagnosed according to standardised criteria
  • they are different from temporary mental health problems that may be experienced following stressful life events
  • some major types of mental illness include:
    • anxiety disorders – are by far the most common mental illnesses with around 14% of Australian adults affected in any year. Anxiety disorders include post-traumatic stress disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, social phobia and obsessive compulsive disorder
    • depression – 6% of Australian adults are affected each year
    • substance use disorders, psychotic illnesses, and personality disorders – these are less common than anxiety and depression

For more information:

What is a physical disability?

  • physical disabilities affect a person's physical functioning, mobility, dexterity or stamina
  • a person may be born with a physical disability, or acquire it later in life
  • examples include:
    • Cerebral Palsy
    • Spinal Cord Injury
    • Amputation
    • Multiple Sclerosis
    • Spina Bifida
    • Musculoskeletal injuries (eg back injury)

For more information:

What is vision impairment?

  • refers to some degree of sight loss
  • a person is legally blind if:
    • they cannot see at six metres what someone with normal vision can see at 60 metres, or
    • their field of vision is less than 20 degrees in diameter (normal vision 180 degrees)
  • a person may be born with a vision impairment, or acquire it through an accident, disease or the aging process
  • examples include:
    • Cataracts – clouding of the clear lens in the eye
    • Glaucoma – damage to the optic nerve associated with pressure in the eye
    • Macular Degeneration – deterioration of central vision
    • Retinitis Pigmentosa – genetic condition causing retina to progressively degenerate

For more information

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