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Main Types of Disabilities and their Causes

Oxford learner's dictionary has defined disability as a physical or mental condition that limits an individual's' movements, senses, and activities.' Their natural inabilities do not hold back people with disabilities from chasing their dreams or living their best lives as today.

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'Disability is not inability.' This phrase has been doing rounds in our minds ever since we discovered thought. In the early years, persons with disabilities were treated like abominations and mistakes of nature, which is sad because they are human beings like everyone else. 

The Oxford dictionary defines disability as a physical or mental condition limiting an individual's movements, senses, and activities. However, with their disabilities, people with disabilities (PWDs) can still chase their dream and live quality lives. 

1. Intellectual Disability

People living with intellectual disabilities may find it difficult to retain information, learn, and communicate. Most children with this condition learn and develop much slower than non-disabled children. Intellectual disability also affects general mental abilities such as intelligence and adaptive functioning.   

Intellectual disability can result from complications before, during, or after childbirth. Other causes include disease, injury, or a brain problem, while other causative factors are still unknown. 

An individual mostly characterizes intellectual disabilities with an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) level below 70. Other signs and symptoms include an individual's inability to carry out simple tasks such as self-care, communication, and self-safety. People with Fragile X syndrome, developmental delay, and Downs syndrome, among other genetic disorders, are believed to have an intellectual disability

Down's Syndrome

Down's syndrome is considered a genetic disorder rather than a disease because it occurs when an individual is born and develops with an extra pair of homologous chromosomes 21. This extra pair of chromosomes causes an individual to develop both mental and physical disabilities.   

People with Downs' syndrome express the following physical features: 

  • a shorter neck  

  • smaller ears  

  • Almond-shaped eyes which seem to slant upwards  

  • A tongue that sticks out of the mouth  

  • Smaller hands and feet, etc.

Fragile X syndrome

This condition is genetic and is caused by a mutation in the X chromosome. The condition is characterized by mild-to-moderate intellectual disabilities, with the average IQ in males ranging to under 55 and over 75% of all affected females exhibiting intellectual disabilities. People with this genetic disability have the following physical features: 

  • Long, narrow face  

  • Large ears  

  • Flexible fingers  

  • Large testicles  

Developmental Delay

This condition occurs when a child develops slower than the normal growth rate of other children. The child might have a developmental delay when they cannot move, understand, learn and socialize with other children. These disabilities might begin as early as through the developmental stage and last throughout the person's lifetime.   

2. Physical Disability

A person has a physical disability when their mobility, stamina, physical capacity, or even agility are affected by a physical condition such as; a spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, respiratory conditions, hearing, and visual disabilities. Physical disabilities can either be congenital or hereditary, and others might be temporary while others are permanent.   

Physical disabilities, due to their wide array of causes, occur in several forms, such as: 

Acquired Brain Injury

This type of disability normally occurs from a brain injury after birth, affecting an individual's emotional, physical, and cognitive functions, or at times, all three. A person's level of independence can be damaged severely by this condition as they may experience difficulties when planning, solving problems, and processing information. The effects can be either temporary or permanent.  

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)

When the blood supply to the spinal cord is cut, or the spinal cord itself gets injured due to too much pressure applied to it, an individual undergoes conditions such as paraplegia, paralysis, and lack of sensory abilities. The changes resultant from SCI can either be permanent or temporary depending on the gravity of their impact. Some differently-abled people with this condition use a wheelchair for movement.   

3. Psychiatric Disability

Psychiatric or mental illnesses are a group of diseases that negatively affect an individual's thinking, behaviour, and interaction with other people. However, mentally ill people are not abnormal Mental illnesses occur both temporarily and permanently and are quite difficult for the individual to experience.   

Mental health disorders affect a person's thinking, behaviour and mood, and manifest through conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, addictive behaviours, etc.

Bipolar Disorder

This disorder was initially known as manic depression, as it triggers extreme mood swings with manias (high mood) and depressions (low mood). The mood swings occur temporarily and in cycles that can last for hours, days, weeks, or even months. Extreme bipolar disorders often lead people to experience suicidal thoughts and psychosis. Bipolar disorders are caused by genetic predispoisitons and chemical imbalances in the brain.


Yet another mental disorder that causes significant effects on how a person perceives their feelings. The condition causes a lingering feeling of sadness and loss, which lowers moods. It affects people differently with symptoms such as extreme sadness, feelings of worthlessness and anxiety, changes the person's appetite, makes them feel physical aches in the body, and an impaired concentration span.   

4. Sensory Disability

These are long-lasting disabilities that most people are either born with or acquire through their lives. They include blindness, deafness, severe speech impediments, and severe hearing and vision impairments. This form of disability is caused by Usher syndrome or injuries and infections.    

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that alters how individuals see the world around them, interact with it, and bond with its people. Boys are more likely to develop autism compared to girls, and the effects can cause speech impairment.   

People with autism cannot communicate freely, have concentrated interests, and are very sensitive to sensory experiences like light, touch, or speech. There is no clear answer to the cause of autism, and persons with autism are generally very intelligent. 

Hearing loss and Deafness

This specific impairment is very well known worldwide as many people live with partial and permanent deafness. The disability is caused by damage to either part of the inner, middle, or outer ear. People with partial deafness can hear some speech patterns around them and can be equipped with hearing aids that help them distinguish the patterns and hear well.   

It is easy to learn sign language to easily communicate with people with hearing disabilities as it is a humane thing to do. Sign language helps them communicate with each other, and it is a beautiful language to learn. It has complex hand gestures and patterns that challenge an individual's mind and form bonds with people with hearing impairments.   

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