Disability

Specialty of Child & adolescent psychiatry

What are disabilities?

A disability is a physical or mental impairment which may prevent or limit daily activity which are usually considered to be normal for human beings. Today the concept is an umbrella term, referring to physical, pathological and social aspects.

Types of disability

  • Physical disability – most of these affect mobility, often due to conditions affecting the arms, legs, or nervous system.
  • Learning disability – patients may have difficulty understanding and processing new information and in learning new skills. Conditions like Down’s syndrome may be diagnosed immediately at birth, while others may not be evident until the child goes to school.
  • Vision impairment – partial or total blindness can severely affect a patient’s life. Some may require assistance or a guide dog.
  • Hearing impairment – ranging from mild hearing loss to total deafness, some patients may only be able to communicate via sign language, which may require an interpreter.
  • Mental health conditions – a range of disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and personality disorders can affect the way people feel and behave and may be so extreme that the patient cannot look after themself.
  • Acquired brain injury (ABI) – brain damage caused by infection, disease, trauma, or lack of oxygen can affect memory, communication, concentration, and the ability to process information and solve problems. Personality and behaviour can also change as a result.
  • Autistic spectrumautism affects the way brain takes in and stores information. It can affect behaviour, particularly social interactions and communication. Asperger’s syndrome is a mild form of autism.

What causes disability?

There are a multitude of different disabilities, each with their own set of causes. Physical disabilities are often caused by a trauma, while some may be due to genetic or acquired illnesses affecting the nerves, brain, spine, or skeleton. On the other hand, mental health conditions, learning disabilities and autism are usually genetic in origin, but acquired brain injuries may be caused by trauma, disease, infection, or oxygen starvation. Visual and hearing impairment have many possible causes.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

The diagnosis and treatment depends entirely on the disability in question. Ophthalmologists specialise in any type of visual impairment, whereas otolaryngologists specialising in the ear may be the best bet for hearing loss. Mental health disorders can often be helped with therapy from a psychiatrist, while physical disabilities and acquired brain injuries may require treatment from a number of doctors, depending on the type of injury or condition they have. Children with learning disabilities or those on the autistic spectrum may require special assistance at school to help them.

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