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Having a disability can mean many different things. It may include an illness or disorder that affects a person’s thought processes or emotions, loss of a body part, difficulty learning or concentrating, or loss of physical function. A person’s disability may be as a result of illness, accident, or may be a genetic condition. When working with a person who has disability, it is important to put the person before their disability rather than seeing them solely as any impairment they may have.


“A disability may be visible or hidden, may be permanent or temporary and may have minimal or substantial impact on a person’s abilities” (Australian Network on Disability, 2019).

Key messages

Children with disability are at increased risk of abuse and neglect compared to children without disability. Depending on an individual child’s disability, factors such as an inability to communicate, a dependence on caregivers, social isolation and physical vulnerability all increase a child’s risk of being abused or neglected.

Getting early diagnosis and support for a child’s disability is critical to ensure they have positive life outcomes. Every child you work with who has a suspected or diagnosed disability should have adequate supports implemented for their disability as soon as possible.

A person with disability is more likely to experience poverty, live in poor quality or insecure housing and have low levels of education. They are more likely to be socially isolated, with fewer opportunities to take part in community life. When working with children and parents with disability, it’s important to understand the intersections that may exist for them rather than looking at a person’s disability in isolation.

Go beyond the label of someone’s disability and seek to understand its impact. To support a parent or child with disability, understanding the way in which that person’s disability impacts on their functioning is essential. No two people who have the same diagnosed disability are ever actually the same!

Disability can be disguised as trauma-related behaviour.  If a child presents with any signs or behaviours that could indicate a disability, always seek further information and progress referral for assessment.  

Disability doesn’t always mean a diagnosis. Adapting your intervention and arranging disability support for a parent or child should occur depending on their needs, not just based on a confirmed diagnosis. A diagnosis can take years, whereas a change in your approach can occur immediately.

Throughout your casework, you are responsible for making reasonable adjustments for a child or parent with disability. Adapting communication, giving people more time, ensuring support people are present and arranging interpreters or communication partners will promote effective engagement and increase the participation of the person with disability.

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