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Types of Disabilities

Disability is the consequence of an impairment that may be physical, cognitive, intellectual, mental, sensory, developmental, or some combination of these that result in restrictions on an individual’s ability to participate in everyday life.

Information on NMDS Disabilities

Intellectual disabilities applies to conditions appearing in the developmental period (age 0–18 years) associated with impairments of mental functions, difficulties in learning and performing certain daily life skills and limitations of adaptive skills in the context of community environments compared to others of the same age. This includes Down syndrome, tuberous sclerosis and cri-du-chat syndrome.

Specific learning/Attention Deficit Disorder

Specific learning/Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) (other than intellectual)— learning disability is a general term referring to a group of disabilities, presumed due to central nervous system dysfunction rather than an intellectual disability, covering significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of organisational skills, listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning or mathematical skills.

Autism (including Asperger’s syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Delay)

Autism is used to describe pervasive developmental disorders involving disturbances in cognition, interpersonal communication, social interactions and behaviour (in particular obsessive, ritualistic, stereotyped and rigid behaviours).

Physical 5 Acquired Brain Injury

Used to describe conditions that are attributable to a physical cause or impact on the ability to perform physical activities, such as mobility. Physical disability often includes impairments of the neuromusculoskeletal systems including, for example, the effects of paraplegia, quadriplegia, muscular dystrophy, Motor Neurone Disease, neuromuscular disorders, Cerebral Palsy, absence or deformities of limbs, Spina Bifida, arthritis, back disorders, ataxia, bone formation or degeneration and scoliosis.

Neurological (including Epilepsy and Alzheimer’s Disease)

Applies to impairments of the nervous system occurring after birth, includes Epilepsy and organic dementias (for example, Alzheimer’s Disease) as well as such conditions as Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease.

Deafblind (dual sensory)

Refers to dual sensory impairments associated with severe restrictions in communication, and participation in community life. Deafblindness is not just vision impairment with a hearing loss, or a hearing loss with a vision impairment. Deafblindness is a unique disability of its own requiring distinct communication and teaching practices.


Encompasses blindness and vision impairment (not corrected by glasses or contact lenses), which can cause severe restriction in communication and mobility, and in the ability to participate in community life.


Encompasses deafness, hearing impairment, hearing loss.


Encompasses speech loss, impairment and/or difficulty in being understood.


Psychiatric disability includes recognisable symptoms and behaviour patterns, frequently associated with distress, which may impair personal functioning in normal social activity. Includes the typical effects of conditions such as schizophrenia, affective disorders, anxiety disorders, addictive behaviours, personality disorders, stress, psychosis, depression and adjustment disorders. For psychiatric disability one would normally expect there to be a diagnosis. General issues with behaviour (where there is no specific diagnosis) should be reflected in the support needs data (for example, support needs in relation to ‘interpersonal interactions and relationships’) rather than here in ‘disability group’. Includes: schizophrenia, affective disorders, anxiety disorders, addictive behaviours, personality disorders, stress, psychosis, depression and adjustment disorders.

Developmental delay

Applies to children aged 0–5 where conditions have appeared in the early developmental period, but no specific diagnosis has been made and the specific disability group is not yet known.

Information on NMDS Disabilities

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Find out about Assistive Technologies

Assistive technology is an umbrella term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities.

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