By Mark Macfarlane | 11 November 2015 01:08:59It’s a question which is frequently asked by people with Down syndrome, the condition which makes it difficult for people with the same intellectual disabilities to understand and express themselves.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that people with these conditions are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental health issues than those with a more typical cognitive disorder.
In a report from the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that people who were diagnosed with Down Syndrome are twice as likely as those with typical intellectual disability to be unemployed and twice as much less likely to be in the bottom fifth of income earners than the average.
There is also a link between the condition and poor mental health.
According to the latest figures from the ABS, people with autism spectrum conditions were twice as common in the country as people with a normal intelligence test result.
And a recent report from Queensland University of Technology suggests that the number of people diagnosed with autism has more than doubled over the last decade.
But is the real number of Down Syndrome sufferers really so small?
Some people with mild to moderate disabilities claim to be diagnosed with the condition.
The word “suffering” appears on their medical records, as does the phrase “having a disability”.
And while it’s possible for a person to be born with Down, there are some cases where it’s a genetic condition.
For example, people who have Down syndrome can also be born without a functioning brain.
The National Disability and Carers (NDC) Association, a non-profit organisation, estimates that around 100,000 people in Australia have Down Syndrome.
It says there are around 3.2 million people with intellectual disability, which is a mental disorder.
But this figure is likely to vary depending on how many people are diagnosed.
It is worth noting that the prevalence of Down syndrome in Australia is higher than in the US, the UK and France.
Professor Mark Riedl, an associate professor of developmental medicine at Sydney’s Macquarie University, says that Down syndrome sufferers have a greater prevalence of autism.
He says it is possible for people to be both diagnosed and diagnosed without any autism symptoms.
“In general, the number one cause of disability is disability and disability can be a mix of a diagnosis with a disability,” he said.
“If someone is diagnosed with a psychiatric condition but also has a mental health condition, they are more at risk for developing an autism spectrum disorder.”
But he says the numbers are still far too small.
“The data I’ve seen suggests that maybe 20 per cent of Down’s people actually have autism, so you can’t really say that this represents a substantial percentage of the population,” he says.
Professor Riedll believes the problem of people with disabilities getting labelled with the word “autism” is partly down to stigma.
“People with disabilities are sometimes labelled as ‘less capable’ or ‘not smart enough’ because they have a mental illness,” he explains.
“There is a lot of stigma around mental health, so if you have a disability and a mental impairment, that can make people think that they’re a bad person.”
He believes that it’s better to focus on mental health than being labelled as having a disability.
“We have to recognise that people are different,” he told ABC Radio’s AM.
“Sometimes people may have a diagnosis of a mental condition and it may be a bit too simplistic to think that you’re less able or less intelligent.”
Some people might be diagnosed as having autism, but they’re actually more likely than others to have a normal IQ.
“So what’s the truth behind this phrase “down syndrome”?”
I’ve never actually met a Down Syndrome person who has said ‘I am not autistic’,” Dr Riedel says.”
But I’ve spoken to a lot more people with this disorder and there is definitely a lot that’s going on in the brain that is different to the way a typical person with autism would.
“Professor Riesl says it’s not always about being labelled with Down’s syndrome.”
Often it’s just a bit of an attitude,” he explained.”
And sometimes it’s something about what you think of as your intelligence.
“It’s about what the doctor thinks of you, but you know what, it’s all down to what the doctors say about you.”
That’s just how it is, so it’s fine.