Almost 1% of Australians with an Intellectual Disability

Intellectual disability represents a very significant client group of disability services, and more consistent national estimates of the numbers of people affected are needed for service planning, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The Definition and Prevalence of Intellectual Disability in Australia provides a critical overview of a number of important estimates of intellectual disability in Australia. The Report attempts to quantify the size of this population group in order to inform the community and facilitate service planning.

Author of the report, Xinyang Wen said that 'on the basis of the best available national population survey data to date, there are 174,000 people with an intellectual disability, either as the primary disabling condition or as an associated condition, that need ongoing support with basic living activities.'

'This figure of 174,000 is perhaps the best figure to use for an overall estimate of the prevalence of intellectual disability in Australia.'

'The majority of these people (86.6%) are reported as having had their primary disabling condition before the age of 18, while 38.3% reported an onset of their condition at birth or during infancy,' he said.

This is in contrast with the pattern of people across all disability groups, of whom 73.8% identified their primary disabling conditions at adult ages or older.

Other major findings of the report include:

  • National and regional estimates showed prevalence of intellectual disability increased with age until about 10 to 14 years and then declined gradually.
  • The rates were generally higher among children at school ages than among the adult population.
  • There was a consistently higher overall prevalence among males, as compared with females at both State and national levels.
  • The sex differences in prevalence were particularly significant among children and adolescents.
  • 44% of people reporting intellectual disability as the primary disabling condition also reported associated physical impairments or disabilities. Over 25% reported speech problems, and 22% reported associated psychiatric disabilities.

27 March 1997


Further information:Xingyan Wen, ph. 02 6244 1177, or Ros Madden, ph. 02 6244 1189.
General media liaison:Lyn Elliott, ph. 02 6244 1034.
For media copies of the report (74 pp):Chris Finnegan, ph. 02 6244 1032.
Availability: Check the AIHW for details.