The challenges individuals face as a result of disabilities vary in type, some not immediately visible. That is why it is important to not assume that someone possesses or does not possess a disability based on how they look or act. For others still, the cause of disability can even be unknown – and some people with disabilities live without a formal diagnosis.

It is imperative for us to understand the variety of challenges individuals with disabilities face, so that we can better understand how a disability impacts a person’s life. A deeper understanding of the variety of disabilities helps us ensure that members of this community receive the specific care they need to be positioned to thrive. Although the challenges individuals with disabilities face are unique and idiosyncratic, there are generally four main categories of disabilities – physical, behavioral, developmental, and sensory.

Physical disabilities

I.e. Acquired Brain Injury, Spinal Cord Injury, Spina bifidia, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Amputations, Multiple Sclerosis

Physical disabilities involve long term or permanent impairments to the body’s physical functions. Physical disability can impact a person’s mobility or physical function. The causes of physical disabilities can vary – it can be hereditary, or inherited, or the result of accident, injury, illness, or post-surgery effects.

Behavioral Disabilities

Ie. ADHD, ASD, Eating Disorder, GAD, OCD, PTSD

Behavioral disorders are types of disabilities that involve patterns of disruptive behaviors outside of the norm that may cause issues for children and adults at home, school, and in other social settings. Behavioral disorders are fairly common, affecting an estimated 26% of Americans 18 and older. If left untreated, behavioral disorders can cause challenges for individuals, resulting in them being misunderstood in our community and having a detrimental effect on one’s ability to maintain relationships, perform well in school, or even hold down a job.

Similar to our understanding surrounding other disabilities, our society holds many misconceptions about behavioral disorders. For example, a behavioral disorder is often mischaracterized as simply a child misbehaving. Disruptive behavior is in fact a diagnosable mental health condition, often influenced by other factors.

Another myth is that there is only one type of behavioral disorder. In fact, behavioral disorders take many forms. Some examples include:

  • Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Often called attention-deficit disorder, this disorder is often diagnosed early in childhood, and manifests differently in men and women. It is associated with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and sometimes, Children with ADHD have difficulty controlling impulsive behaviors, and they may daydream, forget or lose things more often, talk too much, or make careless mistakes.
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD): This refers to individuals who exhibit an abnormal rebellion against Individuals diagnosed with ODD often throw tantrums, act out, or misbehave in order to command attention. They can be ”uncooperative, defiant, and hostile toward peers, parents, teachers, and other authority figures,” according to John Hopkins Medicine. ODD occurs on a spectrum, and is often caught in the earlier stages of development, symptoms showing generally during preschool years.
  • Eating Disorders: The term eating disorder is an umbrella term that refers to a variety of conditions that involve abnormal eating patterns. Two of the most common eating disorders among children and young adults are anorexia nervosa and bulimia
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Generalized anxiety disorder develops when individuals are not able to healthily manage their internal stress. It can be inherited, triggered by family or environmental stress, brought on by chronic illness or disease, or even related to medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism. Individuals with GAD may experience difficulty falling or staying asleep, lightheadedness, nausea, fatigue, urinating often, poor concentration, and a number of other symptoms related to excessive worrying.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Individuals who have been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, experience uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (“obsessions”) and/or behaviors that the individual believes they must repeat over and overin response to an obsessive  Some individuals with OCD may also have a motor tic, or a brief, repetitive movement that they cannot control.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): When an individual experiences a shocking, scary, or dangerous event, there is a possibility they may become traumatized, and develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. This disorder causes individuals to feel stressed or frightened, even when the perceived threat is not truly putting them in a position of Not every individual diagnosed with PTSD has to necessarily have experienced a dangerous event – it is possible to develop the disorder when learning a friend or family member experiencedtrauma.

Developmental Disabilities

I.e. Autism Spectrum (ASD), Cerebral Palsy, Fragile X Syndrome, Intellectual Disability, Language Disorder, Tourette Syndrome, Epilepsy, Down Syndrome

Developmental disability is an umbrella term for a wide range of chronic conditions surrounding mental or physical capacity that appear before adulthood and pose lifelong challenges to individuals in certain areas of life, especially in “language, mobility, learning, self-help, and independent living.” Some examples include:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): This neurodevelopmental disability is caused by differences in the brain. ASD also manifests on a spectrum, and individuals associated with it often have problems with social communication and interaction. They may exhibit repetitive behaviors or hold niche interests. People with ASD also often exhibit delayed language skills, movement skills, or inattentive behaviors, and as children, may not show facial expressions like happy, sad, angry and surprised by 9 months of age, according to the CDC.
  • Cerebral Palsy: Cerebral Palsy is a non-progressive pathologic lesion in the developing infant or child’s brain causing permanent motor and/or sensory  It is the most common motor disability in childhood, and affects a person’s mobility, posture, and balance.
  • Down Syndrome: Down Syndrome is a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome. These chromosomes determine how a baby’s body forms and functions as it grows during pregnancy and after  Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. People with Down syndrome usually have an IQ (a measure of intelligence) in the mildly-to-moderately low range and are slower to speak than other children.
  • FetalAlcohol Syndrome: Fetal alcohol syndrome is a condition in a child that results from alcohol exposure during the mother’s Alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. It causes brain damage and growth problems associated with learning disorders, poor memory, trouble with attention.
  • Degenerative: Degenerative disorders appear later in life, characterized by an initial appearance of normalcy followed by a period of decline in function or Years might pass by before the degenerative disorder appears in a person’s development. Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD), or Heller’s syndrome, is a characteristic degenerative disorder and sometimes described as a rare form of autism.

To learn more about developmental disabilities, please check out our previous blog post: “What does IDD stand for in Mental Health?”

Sensory Disabilities

Deafness, Blindness, Mutism,

Sensory disabilities are disabilities that pertain to the senses (i.e. sight, hearing, smell, touch, or taste). Our ability to sense through our five senses is crucial to our interactions with the natural world and each other. Sensory disabilities affect an individual’s access to visual and/or auditory information, and especially in workplace or educational settings, most content information is presented visually or auditorily, limiting individuals with sensory disabilities’ access.

  • Deafness/Hard of Hearing: Functional hearing loss can range from mild to profound – when individuals possess very little or no functional hearing, people may refer to themselves as “deaf.” Individuals with milder cases may refer to themselves as “hard of hearing” or “hearing impaired.” In Deaf culture, the word “Deaf” is
  • Visual Impairment Including Blindness: One example of a sensory disability is vision impairment. Vision impairment includes individuals who are blind, or have partial vision. This impairment is caused by a loss of visual acuity, where the eye does not see objects as clearly as
  • Sensory Processing Disorder: This disorder is a disability where an individual has significant difficulty receiving and responding to information they receive through the senses.Children and adults who have SPD may overreact to sounds, clothing, and food textures. Some doctors believe this disorder is a symptom of other disorders related to hypersensitivity, such as autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder or anxiety, and not a disorder in itself. Although it may not be recognized as an official medical diagnosis, the symptoms of this disorder are important to acknowledge to increase awareness and support for individuals who suffer from it.

We hope that this article will help you better understand the main categories of disabilities, and the specific challenges these individuals face in daily life. Remember that the information presented here is not exhaustive, and each individual’s experience is unique. Information is our best tool to combat misconceptions, stereotypes, and biases about people with disabilities. We can all leverage our influence to promote accessibility and inclusion and create a more just society for all.

Here are some ways you can be an ally to individuals with disabilities:

  • Listen actively to people with
  • Observe and pay attention to the dynamics of power and
  • Be conscious of the language you use
  • Use your voice to amplify the voices of individuals you are  Help others understand the prejudices they act on.

Source: City of Lake Oswego, Disability Awareness Month Graphic