What is Intellectual Disability?

Persons with disabilities “include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others” (UNCRPD, 2006)

Persons with Intellectual Disabilities are entitled to the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Down Syndrome and Autism

Down syndrome is a naturally occurring chromosomal arrangement that has always been a part of the human condition. It usually causes varying degrees of intellectual and physical disability and associated medical issues. (Down syndrome International) There is considerable individual variation in people who have Down syndrome. However, the most common features are intellectual disability, craniofacial anomalies, speech and language impairment, low muscle tone, increased incidence of various medical and sensory issues, including hearing, vision, heart, and thyroid disorders. (Bull et al, 2011; DSMIG)

There is no cure for Down syndrome. It happens by chance, it can’t be prevented, and it isn’t caused by anything a parent did or didn’t do. Health problems can be managed well, especially when detected early in a prenatal test before birth or immediately after birth through direct observation. (Kids Health, 2022) Education and proper care have been shown to improve quality of life. (Healthline, 2017) This facilitates their participation in mainstream society and the fulfillment of their potential.

Autism – also referred to as autism spectrum disorder – constitutes a diverse group of conditions related to the development of the brain, which is characterized by some degree of difficulty with social interaction and communication. (UN WHO, 2022) Scientific evidence suggests that various factors, both genetic and environmental, contribute to the onset of autism by influencing early brain development. Characteristics of autism may be detected in early childhood, but autism is often not diagnosed until much later. It is estimated that worldwide about 1 in 100 children has autism (Zeidan J et al, 2022

What are the human rights impacts of Intellectual Disabilities?

People with intellectual disabilities are often subject to stigma and social exclusion. In most cases, they are denied of access to many services; face multiple forms of discrimination as well as legal, attitudinal, and environmental barriers that hinder their participation in their communities. They are denied opportunities to engage in civil, political, economic, social, and cultural activities of their community and unable to fully realize their human rights. 

What is the situation in Ethiopia?

There are very few studies on autism and Down syndrome in Ethiopia but estimations on the number of children and other persons with these conditions put them in thousands. The perception that people with intellectual disabilities are unproductive or that they are cursed still persists so they are often hidden at home or placed in segregated settings.

Ethiopia has a long way to go to ensure the full inclusion and participation of people with intellectual disabilities. Many children with intellectual disabilities are kept away from schools and other intervention programs so they are denied the opportunity to gain independence and reach their full potential.

Some public and private schools in Ethiopia have attempted to cater for children with various types of disabilities- including children with intellectual disabilities.  But these efforts are far and between and not adequate to the needs. 

Intellectual impairments differ in nature. For this reason, it is difficult to teach children with intellectual disabilities in a group or with children with other physical or sensory impairment. It is therefore important to have an inclusive educational policy that takes into account the diversity of people with developmental disabilities. This includes monitoring of implementation of the policy in schools, training teachers and other school personnel and allocation of appropriate financial resources. 

This year World Down syndrome and Autism Awareness Days were commemorated under the theme of ‘Inclusion Means’ and ‘Inclusion in the Workplace’.