An assessment of intellectual disability among Aboriginal Australians

Document Type

Journal Article


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science


School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Science




Glasson, E. J., Sullivan, S. G., Hussain, R., & Bittles, A. H. (2005). An assessment of intellectual disability among Aboriginal Australians. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 49(8), 626-634. Available here


BACKGROUND: The health and well-being of Indigenous people is a significant global problem, and Aboriginal Australians suffer from a considerably higher burden of disease and lower life expectancy than the non-Indigenous population. Intellectual disability (ID) can further compromise health, but there is little information that documents the prevalence of ID among indigenous populations. This study provides information on ID among the Aboriginal population of Western Australia. METHODS: The Disability Services Commission (DSC) of Western Australia has maintained a statewide database of people with ID since 1953. Data on people of Aboriginal descent were extracted from the DSC database and linked to two other state-based databases, the Hospital Morbidity Data System and the Deaths Registry, with additional linkage to the National Death Index. The linked data were used to assess the prevalence, survival patterns and causes of death in Aboriginal people with ID. RESULTS: Although comprising 3.5% of the population, Aboriginal Australians represented 7.4% of all people registered for ID services. The level of ID was assessed as borderline or mild in 40.7% of cases, moderate in 19.9%, severe or profound in 12.1%, but had not been specified in 27.2% cases. Median survival was 55.1 years for men and 64.0 years for women, with a mean age at death (n = 102) of 19.6 years. The leading causes of death were respiratory diseases, diseases of the circulatory system, and accidents. CONCLUSIONS: The study presents unique population summary data for ID in the Aboriginal community of Western Australia. To provide appropriate prevention and intervention strategies, there is an urgent need for more detailed information on the prevalence and patterns of ID.



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