Health fact sheets
Are you a family member, friend or supporter of a person with intellectual disability? Our health fact sheets can help.
Learn how to navigate health services for people with intellectual disability. We have fact sheets covering 30 topics. Browse each topic on this page, or download a file containing all fact sheets combined.
Important: We have lots of information and tips about Coronavirus. Go to our COVID-19 page.
We are working to improve health outcomes for people with intellectual disability. Check out our work at our health issue page.
Diagnosis and assessment of a disability
Diagnosis and assessment is the process of working out the nature and cause of a disability and providing advice about the person’s needs and available services.
Children – signs of illness
Children and adolescents with intellectual disability can have the same health problems as anyone else. They often have more health problems.
It is really important to have regular health checks and watch out for signs of health problems.
Children – what kinds of health services are there?
The health system is complex, and it can be hard to find the help you need. This fact sheet tries to help you through this maze by explaining what health services there are for children and young people.
Adults – what kinds of health services are there?
It can be hard to find the help a person with intellectual disability needs.
This fact sheet tries to help you through this maze by explaining what health services there are.
Ageing and health
Older people with intellectual disability have the same range of health problems as all older people, and many develop age-related problems at a much earlier age.
You should watch for any signs that a person’s health is deteriorating.
End of life care
Sometimes, medical treatment is not offered to people with intellectual disability because of doctors’ views about their quality of life.
Family and support workers may need to be educators and strong advocates in these situations.
We also helped NSW Health develop Easy Read booklets on death, dying and palliative care.
Annual health assessments
It is important for a person with intellectual disability to have a thorough health assessment each year. Annual assessments, which are paid for by Medicare, can show up health problems that no one knew about.
Preventive health strategies aim to prevent illness or diagnose and treat it early. For example, immunisation and regular health checks.
People with intellectual disability should receive the same preventive health care as the rest of the community.
People with intellectual disability are at high risk of dental disease. This can be due to poor dental care and poor mouth hygiene, which can lead to other health problems.
Challenging behaviour and health
Challenging behaviour means that something is not right for the person.
A behaviour support practitioner can help. It is also important for the person’s doctor to check for any health problems causing the behaviour.
Alcohol and other drugs
It can be very hard for people with intellectual disability to get the help that they need for their drug problems. They may not recognise the problem and it can be hard to find appropriate services. However, supports are available.
Causes of intellectual disability and health care
Knowing the cause of a person’s intellectual disability can help professionals advise how the person will develop and how to meet the person’s needs.
All people have the right to make choices about relationships. People with intellectual disability often need information and support to help them make decisions about relationships and sexuality.
People with intellectual disability have the same choices about contraception as other people. But, they will often need clear information and support to make choices.
Managing periods is not a problem for most women with intellectual disability. But for some, it can be complicated. Women with intellectual disability often need clear information and support to make choices about their periods.
Finding the right doctor
Going to the dentist
People with intellectual disability should go to the dentist at least every six months. Many people find it hard to tell the dentist that they have a toothache or sore gums. They may be anxious.
It is important to find a dentist who has the right skills to treat people with intellectual disability.
Specialised intellectual disability health services
Sometimes GPs and other mainstream health professionals struggle to diagnose and treat people with intellectual disability.
A health service that specialises in working with people with intellectual disability may be needed.
Getting the most out of Medicare
For many people, Medicare covers much more than just going to the doctor when they are sick. If you think that items in this fact sheet might be useful for a person with intellectual disability, take it with you when you go to the doctor.
Going to the doctor – tips and tricks
Helping the doctor understand the person
It is important to help the doctor communicate with the person with intellectual disability. It is also important that the doctor knows what the person is like when they are well.
Companion resource: My Health Matters folder.
See also our info guides with lots of easy to read information about doctors.
Health issues for families and support workers
Families and support workers often have high levels of stress. Meeting the needs of a person with intellectual disability can be very challenging.
There are many ways you can reduce stress and stay healthy.
Consent to medical treatment
Doctors and dentists usually need to get consent before they carry out treatment.
No-one can do things to your body unless you agree. But what happens if a person with intellectual disability does not understand the treatment?
Rights and complaints
If a person with intellectual disability does not get a fair deal from the health system, it is okay to make a complaint. And if the person suffers from inadequate health care, they might be able to seek compensation.
See also Making a complaint about goods or services, our Info Guide in Easy Read.