Overview of intellectual disabilities

Intellectual disabilities are ones that make it harder for people to communicate and learn, and often come with physical or sensory challenges too. This kind of disability is often evident from birth and can cause difficulties throughout life, although specialist education can help.

Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is a genetic condition that affects around 1 in every 1100 babies born in Australia. The condition occurs because a baby is born with an extra chromosome, which can lead to differences physically, intellectually and with general health. No two cases are alike, with some Down syndrome sufferers needing little help to live an ordinary life while others may require a lot of support.

To learn more please visit the Down Syndrome Australia website.

Developmental Delay

Although all children develop at a different rate there are times when someone may not behave in a way that’s appropriate to their age; the main areas that can be affected are the way a child speaks, learns, interacts with others, moves or in their general behaviour. Spotting these differences early on can help identify the best method of teaching a child and helping them progress. For more information on spotting the signs of developmental delay, The Royal Children’s Hospital has an informative guide.


Around one in 100 people in Australia is affected by some kind of autism, a condition that has a wide range of effects. People on the autism spectrum often have learning difficulties, a high interest in one specific activity and unusual sensory stimulation – whether that’s avoiding everyday sounds and textures or having an strong interest in certain sights or smells. Children with autism often find it hard to communicate, so it’s important to use simple language, take things slowly and use visual prompts to help convey an idea. More information about autism and its effects can be found in Autism Spectrum Australia’s guide.

Fragile X Syndrome (FXS)

FXS is the most common form of inherited intellectual disability across the planet and, like autism, more boys than girls are affected. There is no cure for a condition like FXS but early intervention and specialised teaching methods can help children reach their full potential. The Fragile X Association of Australia has some useful tips for living with FXS.


All intellectual disabilities have a wide range of effects, with some people capable of living fairly independent lives and others requiring specialist care. In all cases, picking up on the signs early can help improve a child’s learning and ability to cope.