PhD research candidate, Amy Dowse, has put together an A-Z of disabilities outlining causes, symptoms and treatments.
Disability Awareness Fortnight is a chance to learn and become aware of disabilities that exist and effect people in their daily lives. In the UK, 1 in 5 people has a disability. PhD research candidate, Amy Dowse, has put together an A-Z of disabilities outlining causes, symptoms and treatments. Not all disabilities are immediately apparent or visable and it's important to understand them in order to support one another and create equal opportunities for all.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects people's behaviour. It is estimated that between 2-4% of adults in the UK have ADHD. Most people are diagnosed as children, but some people with ADHD aren’t diagnosed until adulthood. The exact cause of ADHD is unknown, but the condition has been shown to run in families. Research has also identified a number of possible differences in the brains of people with ADHD when compared with those without the condition. ADHD symptoms in adults can look like or be mistaken for other mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. People with ADHD can seem restless, may have trouble concentrating and may act on impulse.
ADHD symptoms in adults look like:
- Acting impulsively
- Difficulty focusing on work
- Trouble staying organised
- Difficulty managing time
- Shifts in mood
- Trouble multitasking
- Difficulty managing stress
There are 4 common areas where students with ADHD struggle:
- Lack of daily routine - Increase in individual freedom at university and daily life becomes less structured
- Academic Performance - Procrastination and difficulty in prioritising tasks lead to lack of time to complete them
- Interpersonal Relationships - Difficulty building and maintaining relationships
- Continuous Worry - Repeatedly thinking about past events - mostly thoughts revolving around everyday things
Common methods used for dealing with ADHD:
- Skills Training
- Healthy, balanced diet
Darren Tan, PROJECT COORDINATOR
“Finally finding out I'm ADHD made me feel seen in a way I never had. I always felt like I'm wired differently but I couldn't quite get to grips with it. ADHD brains jump right into the middle of a problem and swim out in all directions, while neurotypical brains work through things step by step. I'm much more comfortable in myself now, I don't care (so much) if I'm fidgety or I come off a bit weird. I'm getting to know myself and make sense of my past in ways I never have. I don't think I'll ever get my head around desperately needing external structure, but at the same time really hating being told what to do!”
Asthma is a common lung condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties. It affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood, although it can also develop for the first time in adults. In the UK, approximately 5.4 million people have asthma. Asthma is a long-term condition for many people, particularly if it first develops when they are an adult. In children, it sometimes goes away or improves during the teenage years, but can come back later in life. Asthma is caused by swelling (inflammation) of the breathing tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. This makes the tubes highly sensitive, so they temporarily narrow. It may happen randomly or after exposure to a trigger.
The main symptoms of asthma are:
- A tight chest
- A whistling sound when breathing (wheezing)
The symptoms can sometimes get temporarily worse - this is known as an asthma attack. Asthma is usually treated by using an inhaler, a small device that lets you breathe in medicines. There are both preventative inhalers (used every day) and reliever inhalers (used to quickly resolve symptoms). Although asthma can normally be kept under control, it's still a serious condition. Someone having a severe asthma attack may not be able to take in enough oxygen which can have devastating consequences. There’s no cure for asthma but there are tried and tested asthma medicines to control symptoms. This means that most people with asthma, can get on with their lives without asthma symptoms getting in the way.
Autism is a condition characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication. Autism currently affects around 2% of the UK population. Far more boys than girls are diagnosed with autism. This is because almost everything known about autism comes from studying boys. Often, autism in girls looks different from male autistic behaviour, so girls go undiagnosed. Being autistic does not mean someone has an illness or disease - it means their brain works in a different way from other people. Autism is a spectrum, this means everybody with autism is different. Some autistic people need little or no support, others may need help from a parent or carer every day.
Autistic people may...
- find it hard to communicate and interact with other people
- find it hard to understand how other people think or feel
- find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming
- get anxious in unfamiliar situations and social events
A common behaviour in people with autism is 'masking'. 'Masking' is when people with autism learn, practice, and perform certain behaviours and suppress others in order fit into the world around them. Masking consumes huge amounts of energy. People who use masking to satisfy non-autistic standards often experience anxiety, depression, feel overwhelmed and are exhausted by the constant effort.
Amy Dowse, COMPUTER SCIENCE PHD STUDENT
"From that outside looking in, you probably wouldn’t guess that I am autistic. I have worked very hard to try to fit into the neurotypical world. For a long time, I kept my autistic traits well hidden, hoping that no one would ever notice. It cannot be ignored that there is a stereotype surrounding people with autism, and I was scared that I would be placed in that box and never be able to escape. However, through my own education on autism and the support of those around me, I have come to accept my autism, and now even celebrate it. There is nothing wrong with being autistic - no one should ever feel like they have to hide.I am passionate about raising awareness, changing attitudes, and breaking down barriers for all those with autism."
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that affects moods, which can swing from one extreme to another. Bipolar disorder is fairly common, and 1 in every 100 people will be diagnosed with it at some point in their life. Bipolar disorder can occur at any age, although it often develops between 15 and 19 and rarely after 40.
People with bipolar disorder have episodes of:
- Depression - feeling very low and lethargic
- Mania - feeling very high and overactive
The pattern of mood swings in bipolar disorder varies widely.
Depression symptoms may include:
- Low mood
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling hopeless
- Having little motivation
- Having suicidal thoughts
- Having little interest in things
Mania symptoms may include:
- Talking quickly
- Feeling very happy
- Having lots of ideas
- Having lots of energy
- Not feeling like eating
- Not feeling like sleeping
- Becoming easily annoyed
Symptoms of bipolar disorder depend on which mood the person is experiencing. Unlike simple mood swings, each extreme episode of bipolar disorder can last for several weeks (or even longer). The high and low phases of bipolar disorder are often so extreme that they interfere with everyday life. Treatment is often in the form of medication to either prevent episodes or to treat each mood when they happen.
An acquired brain injury is an injury caused to the brain at some point during a person’s life. 956 people a day are admitted to hospital in the UK for an acquired brain injury.
There are a range of causes of a brain injury:
- Brain haemorrhage
- Traumatic brain injury (road traffic accidents, assaults, falls)
A traumatic brain injury is an injury to the brain caused by a trauma to the head. The brain can be damaged from the initial trauma, but then subsequently damaged by lack of oxygen, bleeding, bruising, swelling, and blood clots.
A stroke is when the flow of blood in the brain is disrupted - this can be caused by a blood clot in the brain. When the blood flow is disrupted, the brain cells are starved of oxygen and they begin to die - this results in brain injury.
A brain tumour is an abnormal mass of tissue inside the skull - these can be malignant (cancerous) or benign. The effects of a brain tumour are dependent on the size and location of the tumour and how much it has spread.
A brain haemorrhage is bleeding in or around the brain - it is a type of stroke.It's caused by an artery in the brain bursting and causing localised bleeding in the surrounding tissues - this bleeding kills brain cells.
The more severe the brain injury, the more pronounced the long-term effects are likely to be. Effects of a brain injury can be physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioural. Even with good rehabilitation, support and help in the community, survivors of a brain injury and their families are likely to face uncertain and challenging futures.
Jack Rutter, PARALYMPIC FOOTBALL CAPTAIN
"The pain I felt back then is the strength I feel today."
Cerebral palsy is the name for a group of lifelong conditions that affect movement and co-ordination. It develops in the brain before, during or soon after birth. Cerebral palsy affects people in different ways. It can affect body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. Cerebral palsy affects around 1 in every 400 children in the UK. There are more boys born with cerebral palsy than girls. Most people with cerebral palsy are diagnosed during the first 2 years of life.
There are 3 types of cerebral palsy:
- Spastic - Muscle tone is tight and stiff which reduces range of movement
- Dyskinetic - Causes uncontrolled, involuntary, sustained or intermittent muscle contractions
- Ataxic - Inability to activate the correct pattern of muscles during movement
Many people have a mix of types.
People with cerebral palsy often have associated conditions:
- Behaviour issues
- Visual impairment
- Hearing impairment
- Learning differences
- Problems with sleep
- Communication difficulties
Cerebral palsy itself is not progressive; the injury to the brain does not change. The effects may change over time for better or worse.
There is no standard therapy that works for every individual with cerebral palsy, a mixture of different methods are used:
- Assistive devices
- Physical therapy
- Recreation therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech and language therapy
Sophie Christiansen, EQUESTRIAN PARALYMPIC CHAMPION, CBE
“Growing up with a disability is tough but you learn how to be resilient and push boundaries, all the things you need to succeed in life. Don't let anything get in the way of reaching your full potential.”
Heidi Buckell, NHS DISABILITY CHAMPION
"Even though I have cerebral palsy which can sometimes pose challenges, it doesn't stop me from achieving things like studying for a degree, living independently and working to create greater disability awareness. Cerebral Palsy therefore doesn’t rule my life, it just gives me obstacles which I leap over."
Rosie Jones, COMEDIAN
"I grew up knowing that I was disabled, but I never felt like that was a bad thing. I loved it! Sure, I couldn't run as fast as my friends, but I got to sit on a chair in assembly, which made all the kids very jealous. As an adult, I never let my cerebral palsy define me, but it is a part of me. Like I did as a child, I very much focus on the positives, and my CP has meant that I have this job, as a comedian, and a platform to speak about disability. Being disabled is not a bad thing, it just means that I am a bit slower at doing certain things, but, what's the rush anyway?"
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) can also be called 'myalgic encephalomyelitis' (ME). The most common symptom is extreme tiredness. Chronic fatigue can affect anyone, including children. It's more common in women, and tends to develop between your mid-20s and mid-40s. It is estimated that chronic fatigue affects up to 250,000 people in the UK. It's not known what causes chronic fatigue, but there are a number of theories.
Suggested causes or triggers include:
- Viral infections
- Bacterial infections
- Hormone imbalance
- Immune system problems
Common symptoms of chronic fatigue include:
- Feeling extremely tired all the time
- Still feeling tired after resting or sleeping
- Problems with thinking, memory and concentration
There is not a specific test for chronic fatigue, so it's diagnosed based on symptoms and by ruling out other potential causes. The severity of symptoms can vary from day to day, or even within a day. There is currently no cure for chronic fatigue but there are treatments that may help to manage the condition.
- Energy management
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Many people with chronic fatigue will need to adapt their daily routine and pattern of activities on a long-term basis. Living with chronic fatigue can be difficult but there is support available to people to help them cope with their symptoms.
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition. This is where the immune system (the body's defence against infection) mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. In coeliac disease, the immune system mistakes substances found inside gluten as a threat to the body and attacks them. This damages the surface of the small bowel (intestines), disrupting the body's ability to take in nutrients from food. Gluten is a dietary protein found in 3 types of cereal – wheat, barley, and rye.
Gluten is found in lots of food including:
- Most beers
- Breakfast cereals
- Most types of bread
- Certain types of sauces
Coeliac disease is a condition that affects at least 1 in every 100 people in the UK. Reported cases of coeliac disease are around 3 times higher in women than men. It's not entirely clear what causes coeliac disease, but a combination of genetics and the environment appear to play a part.
Symptoms of coeliac disease include:
- Stomach aches
- Bloating and flatulence
- Fatigue due to malnutrition
Long term effects of coeliac disease only tend to affect people who continue to eat gluten, or those who have not yet been diagnosed with the condition.
- Iron deficiency
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Weakening of the bones
Testing for coeliac disease involves having:
- Blood tests to help identify people who may have coeliac disease
- A biopsy taken during an endoscopy to confirm the diagnosis
There's no cure for coeliac disease, but following a gluten-free diet should help control symptoms and prevent long-term complications from the condition.
Rosie, CIVIL SERVANT
"Of course, I wouldn’t choose to have coeliac disease. But it’s part of me that I have to accept. I try to remember how lucky and grateful I am to be healthy, happy, and supported. Plus, there’s plenty of gluten free choices available nowadays!"
Crohn's disease is one of the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease (alongside ulcerative colitis). Crohn's disease is where a person's immune system attacks the digestive system causing inflammation that can permanently damage the body. It is estimated that Crohn's disease affects about 1 in every 650 people in the UK. Crohn’s can start at any age, but usually appears for the first time between the ages of 10 and 40.
Everyone's experience of Crohn's is different, but the most common symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Feeling generally unwell
- Stomach aches and cramps
Crohn's is a life-long condition, although people may have periods of good health (remission) as well as times when symptoms are more active (relapses or flare-ups). There is currently no cure for Crohn’s, but medication, and sometimes surgery, can give long periods of relief from symptoms.
Amy Dowden, STRICTLY PROFESSIONAL DANCER
“I never wanted Crohn’s disease to define me. When I was younger and very ill people would feel sorry for me, but I was determined to be Amy The Dancer, not Amy With Crohn’s. This made me even more motivated to achieve my dreams so people would think of me as a champion, not as a person with a chronic illness. If I didn’t have Crohn’s, maybe I wouldn’t have achieved what I have.”
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition that causes sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive system. This causes lung infections and problems with digesting food. The build-up of sticky mucus in the lungs can cause breathing problems and increases the risk of lung infections. Over time, the lungs may stop working properly. Mucus also clogs the pancreas - the organ that helps with digestion. This means most people with cystic fibrosis don't absorb nutrients from food properly and need to eat more calories to avoid malnutrition. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition - it's caused by a faulty gene. A person with cystic fibrosis is born with the condition. It's not possible to "catch" cystic fibrosis from someone else who has it. In the UK, all newborn babies are screened for cystic fibrosis as part of the newborn blood spot test carried out shortly after they're born. Around 1 in every 2,500 babies born in the UK are diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.
Symptoms of cystic fibrosis include:
- Shortness of breath
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Recurring chest infections
- Difficulty putting on weight and growing
There's no cure for cystic fibrosis, but a range of treatments can help control the symptoms, prevent or reduce complications, and make the condition easier to live with.
Treatments for cystic fibrosis include:
- Dietary changes
- Medicines to treat and prevent lung problems
- Airway clearance techniques
- In severe cases a lung transplant may be needed.
Life expectancy of someone with cystic fibrosis is often shortened. However, people with cystic fibrosis are now living for longer because of advancements in treatment.
Lisa Bentley, TRIATHLETE
"Cystic Fibrosis was my superpower. I would not have raced 33 Ironman events and won 11 of them without CF. That is a bold statement coming from a professional athlete whose lungs are her engine. CF gave me purpose. Every time I raced, I brought hope to a family with CF. It was a hope that their child could be healthy like me. So when I felt tired or wanted to quit, I would remind myself that any person with CF would love to be in my shoes racing the best women in the world. That was always the mental encouragement I needed to dig in and push and get to the finish line. Lead with heart and purpose. Can you imagine what superpower is lurking in each of us that we have not even found yet?”
Diabetes is a lifelong condition that affects a person's sugar level in their blood.
There are 2 main types of diabetes:
Type 1 - Where the body's immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin
Type 2 - Where the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body's cells do not react to insulin
Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1. In the UK, around 90% of all adults with diabetes have type 2. There are other types of diabetes besides type 1 and 2.
Common diabetes symptoms include:
- Losing weight
- Increased hunger
- Being really thirsty
- Cuts take longer to heal
- Feeling more tired than usual
- Going to the toilet more frequently
However, no two people are the same so symptoms may vary.
Everyone with type 1 diabetes, and some people with type 2 diabetes, need to take insulin to manage their blood sugar (glucose) levels. People with type 2 diabetes may be able to treat it by eating well, moving more, or with tablets. People with diabetes need to check their blood sugar levels regularly. This is usually done with a finger-prick device which pierces the skin with a needle so that a drop of blood can be taken for testing. There are also continual monitors that people can wear. Hyperglycaemia is the medical term for a high blood sugar level. Hypoglycaemia, or a "hypo", is where the level of sugar in blood drops too low. Both too high or too low blood sugar levels can be dangerous.
Students with diabetes often have adjustments made during exams:
- Allowed to take diabetes equipment into the exam
- Allowed to take food and drink into the exam
- Extra time if they have a high or low reading - these are called rest breaks
Jade Byrne, ACTRESS AND WRITER
"Type 1 Diabetes is not a barrier, it's just a hurdle you have to jump over... a lot!"
Peter James, INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLING AUTHOR
"Some years ago, I wrote an article for the mail saying why having diabetes can be good for you. It was a serious piece and I meant what I said I’ve been type 1 and a half diabetic for 23 years and during this time I’ve kept my HBA1C levels to around 6.3 to 6.5 through a combination of regular hard aerobic exercise and being very careful with my diet. If you exercise regularly - and I mean daily - and watch your diet you can cope with almost anything that diabetes throws at you!"
Sir Steve Redgrave, BRITISH OLYMPIC ROWING CHAMPION
"We all have difficulties put into our path and have to find a positive way through. Team work always helps, especially in your low moments. Diabetes has always had to live with me, not me live with diabetes"
Down's syndrome is a condition in which a person has an extra chromosome. Typically, a baby is born with 46 chromosomes. Babies with Down's syndrome have an extra copy of one of these chromosomes, chromosome 21. Down's syndrome is the most common chromosomal disorder. Each year, around 1 in every 700 babies born are diagnosed with Down's syndrome. Researchers know that Down's syndrome is caused by an extra chromosome, but no one knows for sure why Down's syndrome occurs or how many different factors play a role.
Down's syndrome is characterised by physical features and developmental challenges:
- Flattened face
- Shorter height
- Poor muscle tone
- Learning disability
- Cognitive impairment
- Delayed language skills
Down's syndrome can have a variety of complications:
- Sleep apnea
- Hearing loss
- Heart defects
- Spinal problems
- Immune disorders
- Visual impairment
People with Down's syndrome generally take longer to learn new things - it does not mean they cannot learn. While behaviour, mental ability, and physical development varies from person to person, many individuals with Down's syndrome grow up to hold jobs, live independently, and enjoy normal recreational activities.
Tommy Jessop, ACTOR
"I hate people being labelled with a passion because it really does hide people away. People then go into their shells more often, not being able to have a voice when really, they should have a voice. Acting is my greatest passion in life. I hope any people who do want to be an actor should start believing in themselves. Hopefully it will be their greatest passion in life too."
Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling. It's estimated up to 1 in every 10 people in the UK has some degree of dyslexia. Everyone's experience of dyslexia is unique. It can range from mild to severe, and it can co-occur with other learning differences.
Common symptoms of dyslexia are:
- Reading and writing slowly
- Putting letters the wrong way round (e.g. b and d)
- Poor or inconsistent spelling
- Difficulty in carrying out a sequence of directions
- Difficulties with planning and organisation
5 ways dyslexia affects students:
- Difficulty taking notes
- Struggling to meet deadlines
- Difficulties revising for exams
- Poorly organised written work
- Difficulty planning and writing essays or reports
Dyslexic students are normally no different to their peers in their understanding of their academic subject. However, dyslexia can make reading course books, writing essays, remembering lecture points, and getting their words and ideas across in seminars and tutorials harder. Many dyslexic people show strengths in other areas such as reasoning, problem solving and visual and creative fields.
If you think you may have dyslexia, contact the 'Disability and Dyslexia Service' who can help you seek a formal diagnosis.
Chris Robshaw, ENGLISH RUBGY UNION PLAYER
“We all have strengths and things we excel at, we just need to find what they are. My dyslexia gave me a different way of thinking and approaching subjects as things weren’t always straight forward. Stick with it and things will get easier.”
Dyspraxia is a common disorder that affects movement and co-ordination. It causes people to perform less well than expected in daily activities and appear to be clumsy. It is thought dyspraxia affects up to 10% of the population, with up to 2% being severely affected. Males are four times more likely to be affected than females. Dyspraxia can affect co-ordination skills – such as tasks requiring balance, playing sports or learning to drive a car. It can also affect fine motor skills, such as writing or using small objects. There is a lot of overlap between the signs and symptoms of dyspraxia and dyslexia. Research suggests that 52% of children with dyslexia also have features of dyspraxia.
Dyspraxia symptoms in adults look like:
- Abnormal posture
- Balance and movement issues
- Poor hand-eye coordination
- Trouble learning new skills
- Difficulty writing or using a keyboard
Dyspraxia does not directly change intelligence, but it does affect learning ability. Dyspraxia hinders thought processes - individuals have trouble planning and organising their thoughts and are often unable to understand logic or reason.
There are 2 main types of therapy to help people with dyspraxia:
- Occupational Therapy - Helps find practical ways for people to remain independent and manage everyday tasks
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - Helps to manage problems by changing the way someone thinks
Hannah, EARLY YEARS PRACTITIONER
"My dyspraxia means that I struggle with coordination and balance, among other things. I am always falling over or walking into things. I am not just clumsy - I am dyspraxic."
An eating disorder is a mental health condition where you use the control of food to cope with feelings and other situations. Unhealthy eating behaviours may include eating too much or too little or worrying about your weight or body shape. Eating disorders affect 1 in 50 people in the UK. There is no clear cause of an eating disorder. The most common eating disorder is 'Other Specific Feeding or Eating Disorder' (OSFED). A person may have an OSFED if their symptoms do not exactly fit the expected symptoms for any specific eating disorders.
Common specific eating disorders include:
- Anorexia Nervosa - Trying to control weight by not eating enough food, exercising too much, or doing both
- Bulimia - Losing control over how much is eaten and then taking drastic action to not put on weight
- Binge Eating Disorder - Eating large portions of food until feeling uncomfortably full
Symptoms of an eating disorder include:
• Eating very little or excessive amounts of food
• Exercising too much
• Spending a lot of time worrying about weight
• Becoming withdrawn, anxious or depressed
• Avoiding situations where food will be involved
Students with eating disorders experience an inability to concentrate, irritability, nausea, headaches, and lack of energy, which can result in lack of motivation, lower academic performance, and absenteeism. Treatment will depend on the type of eating disorder diagnosed. Usually, a talking therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is used.
Please reach out for support if you have – or think you may have – an eating disorder.
Laura Dowse, PHILANTHROPY MANAGER
"Having an eating disorder can feel overwhelming and inescapable. But things can change, and it doesn’t have to define you. During university, I learnt more than what I needed to pass exams. I learnt about myself, my strength, and my determination. I learnt about how to overcome challenges – even when they feel impossible – and achieve my goals. I learnt to be proud of myself. I got my degree and overcame my eating disorder. And if you’re suffering from an eating disorder too, please reach out for help and get the support you deserve."
Epilepsy is a common condition that affects the brain and causes frequent seizures. Seizures are bursts of electrical activity in the brain that temporarily affect how it works. There are over 600,000 people in the UK with a known diagnosis of epilepsy. In 65% of epilepsy cases there is no known cause. There are over 40 types of seizures, and each one is different for every individual. When most people think of epilepsy, they think of a tonic-clonic seizure.
There are two stages in this type of seizure:
- Tonic - Lose conciousness, body goes stiff
- Clonic - Limbs jerk, lose control of bladder and bowels, bite tongue, difficulty breathing
Students with epilepsy may have disrupted classes due to seizures or from taking time to recover and rest following a siezure. For some people, epilepsy and seizures can affect their memory and ability to take on, store and use information. Treatment can help most people with epilepsy have fewer seizures, or stop them completely. The most comment treatment is anti-epileptic drugs. Some people need treatment for life, others might be able to stop if seizures disappear over time. While there is no known cure for epilepsy, most people can lead full, healthy lives with treatment and knowledge about how to manage their seizures.
If someone is having a seizure:
- Cushion their head
- Loosen any tight clothing
- Note the length of the seizure
- Stay with them and talk to them
- Put them in the recovery position
- Only move them if they're in a dangerous place
Call 999 if you know it's their first seizure or it's lasting longer than 5 minutes.
Arissh Wol, MODEL
“Know your peace and your worth, there is nothing that can build you stronger than yourself and true being. Never allow your medical condition define or control who you are as a being, always seek the greatest strength. Be true to yourself and to your essence."
'Hard of hearing' refers to people with hearing loss ranging from mild to severe. 'Deaf' people mostly have profound hearing loss, which implies very little or no hearing. In the UK, there are over 12 million people living with some form of hearing loss, whether it is mild or profound. That’s 1 in 5 people in the UK. Hearing loss may be present at birth, or may develop over a person's lifetime. Certain factors in a person's life, such as diseases and circumstances, can contribute to hearing loss.
There are many different technologies and methods which can be used to help a person with hearing loss:
- Hearing aid
- Cochlear implant
- Lip reading
- Sign language
A hearing aid is a small amplifying device which fits on the ear. Hearing aids will not make hearing perfect, but they make sounds louder and clearer, reducing the impact hearing loss has on a persons life.
If someone's deafness is caused by a damaged inner ear they may be fitted with a cochlear implant. Rather than amplifying sound a cochlear implant provides the sense of sound by stimulating the auditory nerve directly.
Lip reading is the ability to understand speech by carefully watching the lip patterns and movement of the tongue and face of the person speaking. Lip reading is not precise as some sounds and words look very similar.
Sign language a system of communication using visual gestures and signs - hand shapes and movements, lip patterns, facial expressions and shoulder movements. It has its own grammar and is structured in a completely different way from spoken English.
Although most hearing loss is permanent and cannot be reversed, it can be successfully addressed and managed to improve quality of life, allowing those with hearing loss to communicate with those around them.
A learning disability is a condition that affects somebody’s ability to learn new knowledge or skills. A learning difficulty is a condition which creates an obstacle to a specific form of learning (e.g. dyslexia). Learning disabilities can range from mild to severe in how much they affect a person, and they do not necessarily relate to a low IQ. A learning disability is different for everyone - no two people are the same. Learning disabilities are caused by something affecting the development of the brain - this may occur before birth, during birth, or in early childhood. Sometimes the specific cause is not known.
Types of learning disabilities with prenatal causes include:
- Rett syndrome
- Down's syndrome
- Williams syndrome
- Prader-Willi syndrome
Postnatal causes that can result in a learning disability include:
It is estimated that around 2% of the population in England have a learning disability.
A person with a learning disability might have some difficulty:
- Learning skills
- Interacting with others
- Understanding complicated information
- Looking after themselves or living alone
Lots of people who have a learning disability can work, have relationships, live alone and get qualifications. Other people might need more support throughout their life.
Limb Loss / Difference
Limb loss and limb difference can affect all ages and backgrounds in a variety of ways. Individuals may be born with limb difference (congenital) or loose a limb through amputation later in life (acquired). Babies with congenital limb differences are born with arms, legs, fingers, or toes that are missing, not fully formed, or formed differently. It is estimated that each year around 2,250 babies are born with a congenital limb difference in the United States.
*There is no reliable data for prevalence in the UK
Depending on the limb difference, treatments for a congenital limb difference may include:
- Physical therapy
- A splint or brace
- Reconstructive surgery
- Artificial limb (prosthetic)
An acquired limb difference is also referred to as an amputation. Individuals may face amputation later in life through illness or trauma. Approximately 185,000 amputations occur in the United States each year.
*There is no reliable data for prevalence in the UK
Many amputees feel a phantom limb sensation - a sensation that the limb is still attached to the body. After an amputation, a person may be fitted with a prosthetic limb - an artificial limb that is put in place of an original limb. Adjusting to life with a prosthetic limb takes a considerable amount of energy. Prosthetic limbs are not suitable for everyone who's had an amputation. All prosthetics are custom-made for the individual. The average prosthesis lasts no more than 5 years. With the right support, people with a congenital or acquired limb difference can lead a happy and fulfilled life.
Emily Woodrofe, MEDICAL STUDENT (BARTS)
"There’s a blurred line between being lucky and unlucky and that’s something I reflect on a lot when I think about my disability. For some people, positivity becomes the focus they pivot on for recovery and outlook on life. For me, it was perseverance – absolute sheer stubbornness that my disability will work with me to enhance the person I am rather than it becoming a hinderance. I have names for my prosthetic legs and they work as my partners to get me up to the very top of wild Scottish mountains, to hike across thick snow and ice or along rocky ridges, to tap dance in the front of class, to pursue my dream to become a doctor and just all the other activities I love to do. Disability is pretty much a faff and fudge for me most of the time but I am a greater believer that just because you’ve been handed lemons doesn’t mean that all you can make is lemonade – I prefer lemon cake!"
Good mental health means being generally able to think, feel and react in the ways that you need and want to live your life. If you go through a period of poor mental health you might find the ways you're frequently thinking, feeling or reacting become difficult, or even impossible, to cope with. Mental health problems affect around one in four people in any given year. They range from common problems, such as depression and anxiety, to more rare problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Experiencing a mental health problem is often upsetting, confusing and frightening – particularly at first. If you become unwell, you may feel that it's a sign of weakness, or that you are 'losing your mind'. These fears can be reinforced by the negative (and often unrealistic) way that people experiencing mental health problems are shown on TV, in films and by the media. However, in reality, mental health problems are a common human experience. Self-care techniques and general lifestyle changes can help manage the symptoms of many mental health problems. They may also help prevent some problems from developing or getting worse.
Some common self-care techniques are:
- Talk to family and friends
- Mindfulness techniques
- Relaxation techniques
- Stay physically active
- Spend time in nature
- Get enough sleep
- Personal care
- Eat healthily
Sometimes treatment is needed from a medical professional - there are 2 main types of treatment:
- Talking Therapy - Other terms for talking therapy includecounselling, psychotherapy, therapy, or psychological therapy
- Medication - Can be used for a wide range of mental health issues
Students are at higher risk of developing mental health problems with research showing many people first experience mental health problems or first seek help when they are at university. According to recent research, 1 in 5 students has a diagnosed mental health problem.
If you are struggling with your mental health please reach out for help. The Advice and Counselling Service is a good place to start.
Jeremy Chopra, ½ OF @ALLONTHEBOARD
“When I was at university I didn’t recognise my mental health was broken. I had lived my entire teens with deep mental health issues. The depth of it was infused in every part of me so it was invisible. I even smiled a lot, never knowing why, which meant it was invisible to others too. At university I started surrounding myself (which still seems like luck) with certain culture (movies, music, art) which contained messages of hope and understanding of certain traits in me and by my final year those messages filtered through and I saw my problems: I had an eating disorder and more. But most importantly I saw that I wanted to get better and deserved to. If you feel a deep unhappiness in yourself, talk about it and get to the bottom of it. Don’t assume you deserve to be unhappy. You don’t.”
Ian Redpath, ½ OF @ALLONTHEBOARD
“The way I try to deal with my mental health issues is by using creativity as a distraction. If I’m going through anxious times or I’m depressed, I put my thoughts and feelings onto a page and sometimes I will turn them into poems or just letters to myself. If you don’t see yourself as a writer, then perhaps draw, paint, knit, design, make music, solve puzzles. Creativity isn’t just about being all Shakespeare-like. If a friend of mine was going through similar sorts of issues I think of what I would say to them to cheer them up and to make them feel less alone and I write those words down to myself. In life you have to treat yourself like you would treat a good friend. From my teens I have always been an anxious person, experiencing at various times, panic attacks, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, low self esteem and always imagining the worst case scenarios. The more knowledge you gain from researching what you are going through, the better understanding you get of it and it becomes easier (although still hard at times) to deal with. If anyone hasn’t experienced an anxiety attack they honestly couldn’t understand or know how terrifying they can be. It’s good to take the mystery away from them and to understand what’s going on. It also feels better to know that you are not alone with whatever mental health issues you are going through. As different as people are, we do all go through similar feelings and emotions. Talking is essential too. There are so many people and organisations in the world for us to talk to. You and I have survived 100% of the worst days that we have ever had. And how many of our worst case scenarios came true? And if they did, we still managed to get through them. You are good enough, you deserve to be happy and you deserve to feel better. So do I. Hold on and there will be better and brighter days. It might not be tomorrow or next week, but there will be better days.”
A migraine is more than just a headache - it is a major, disabling, neurological disease. Migraines are a common health condition, affecting around 1 in 5 women and 1 in 15 men. The exact cause of migraines is unknown, although they're thought to be the result of temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain.
4 PHASES OF A MIGRAINE
- Prodrome (few hours to days) - Irritability, fatigue, problems concentrating
- Aura (5 to 60 minutes) - Visual disturbances, tingling in the body
- Headache (4 to 72 hours) - Throbbing pain, nausea/vomiting, sensitivity to light, sound and smell
- Postdrome (24 to 48 hours) - Fatigue, problems concentrating, lack of comprehension
Not everyone experiences all phases. Migraines impact on a student's study and sleep patterns, their attention levels during lectures and their social and emotional life. 71% of people with migraines feel it has significantly affected their mental health.
Common methods used for dealing with migraines:
- Relax in a dark, quiet room
- Drink a caffeinated beverage
- Establish regular sleep hours
- Try to reduce stress
- Stay well hydrated
Keeping a migraine diary can help to identify any triggers which you can then avoid.
Please speak to your GP if you are suffering with migraines.
Katrina Oates, SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHER
"I've experienced migraines for years. I know how debilitating they can be, how awful they can make you feel, and how much they can affect your life. But I haven't let them hold me back, and you shouldn't either. Migraines can be controlled, and you can enjoy a happy and healthy life - professionally and personally."
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease affecting the brain and spinal cord, also known as the nervous system. In MS, the coating that protects your nerves (myelin) is damaged by the immune system.
Symptoms vary from person to person and from day to day. Some symptoms include:
- Cognition issues
- Altered sensations
- Eyesight problems
- Muscle stiffness and spasms
- Problems with balance and co-ordination
There are over 130,000 people living with MS in the UK. People are commonly diagnosed when they're in their 20s & 30s. There are nearly three times as many women as men diagnosed.
There are two types of MS:
- Relapsing remitting MS - Affects between 8 and 9 of every 10 people with MS. There are episodes of new or worsening symptoms, known as relapses. Periods between attacks are known as periods of remission.
- Primary progressive MS - Affects between 1 and 2 of every 10 people with MS. Symptoms gradually worsen and accumulate over several years, and there are no periods of remission.
MS is a lifelong condition but is not fatal, infectious or contagious. There's currently no cure for MS, but a number of treatments can help control the condition and ease symptoms.
Trishna Bharadi, HEALTH ADVOCATE AND PATIENT ENGAGEMENT CONSULTANT
"A few things have been important to me being able to live positively with MS. The first is always trying to think about HOW I can do something, rather than the reasons why I can't. The second is recognising that asking for help and support is not in any way a weakness, in fact it's empowering. And thirdly that whilst MS is an unpredictable condition, there are things I can do myself to feel more in control e.g. becoming informed, sharing decision making with my healthcare team etc. MS is life changing, but you have to adapt with it!"
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common mental health condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease.
Common obsessions include:
- Fear of deliberately harming yourself or others
- Fear of harming yourself or others by mistake
- Fear of contamination by disease, infection or an unpleasant substance
- A need for symmetry or orderliness
A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that you feel you need to do to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought.
Common compulsions include:
- Asking for reassurance
- Ordering and arranging
- Cleaning and hand washing
- Repeating words in your head
Around 1 in every 50 people suffer from OCD at some point in their lives - that is over 1 million people in the UK. Men and women are equally likely to experience OCD.
Typically, OCD starts to become problematic and impact a person's life:
- During late adolescence for men
- During early twenties for women
Although everyone is different.
There are 2 main types of treatment:
- Psychological therapy - Helps you face your fears and obsessive thoughts without "putting them right" with compulsions
- Medication - Helps by altering the balance of chemicals in your brain
Support groups can also help some people manage their symptoms. Students with OCD may struggle to focus in class or complete assignments while frequently feeling the need to perform rituals like hand-washing, rewriting sentences or reorganising notes. Intrusive thoughts can also be disruptive to the learning process, and can be distressing.
David Adam, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST
"For more than 20 years, OCD was the dominant force in my life. It was a huge part of who I was and what I did and yet almost nobody knew about it. There was no upside. OCD made everything harder. But it didn’t stop me from doing things. Every day I told myself this would be the last day of my OCD, of me torturing myself. That tomorrow would be better. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. But after being lucky enough to get really good treatment I, just like everyone else, now have good and bad days. And that’s an awful lot better than only having bad days."
A rare disease or condition is defined as something which affects fewer than 1 in 2,000 people within the general population. There are currently 6,000 known rare diseases. Some diseases/conditions are so rare they don't have a name. 1 in 17 people will be affected by a rare disease at some point in their lives - this amounts to 3.5 million people in the UK. Approximately 80% of rare diseases are believed to have a genetic component.
Examples of rare diseases include:
- Spina Bifida
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Huntington's Disease
Rare diseases are complex, meaning special combined efforts are needed to address them. However, the majority of rare diseases currently have no effective treatment. Those living with a rare disease can face significant challenges in getting a diagnosis, accessing treatment and receiving coordinated care. There are also challenges with employment, education, social life and mental health. On average, rare disease patients receive three misdiagnoses, consult with five doctors and wait four years before receiving a correct diagnosis.
Vitiligo is a long-term condition where pale white patches develop on the skin. It's caused by the lack of melanin, which is the pigment in skin. Vitiligo can affect any area of skin, but it commonly happens on the face, neck, hands, and in skin creases.
Narcolepsy is a rare long-term brain condition that causes a person to suddenly fall asleep. The brain is unable to regulate sleeping and waking patterns normally. Narcolepsy does not cause serious or long-term physical health problems, but it can have a significant impact on daily life and be difficult to cope with emotionally.
Spina bifida is when a baby's spine and spinal cord does not develop properly in the womb, causing a gap in the spine. Most people with spina bifida are able to have surgery to close the opening in the spine. But the nervous system will usually already have been damaged, which can lead to problems such as weakness or total paralysis of the legs.
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition that causes sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive system - this causes lung infections and problems with digesting food. There's no cure for cystic fibrosis, but a range of treatments can help control the symptoms, prevent or reduce complications, and make the condition easier to live with.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of potential symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance. It's a lifelong condition that can sometimes cause serious disability, although it can occasionally be mild.
Huntington's disease is a condition that stops parts of the brain working properly over time. It is caused by a faulty gene that results in parts of the brain becoming gradually damaged - it's inherited from a person's parents.
Phoebe Paterson Pine, ARCHERY PARALYMPIC CHAMPION, MBE
"Despite all the turbulence of having a disability, all the medical appointments, all the bad news (sometimes good mixed in too), anyone can achieve anything if they put their mind to it despite what life may throw your way. I spent so long being sad about being disabled and have now come to love, respect and accept it and archery has helped me do that."
Schizophrenia is a severe long-term mental health condition. It causes a range of different psychological symptoms. Doctors often describe schizophrenia as a type of psychosis. This means the person may not always be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality.
Symptoms of schizophrenia include:
- Muddled thoughts based on delusions and hallucinations
- Wanting to avoid people
- Lack of interest in personal hygiene
Delusions are unusual beliefs not based on reality. Hallucinations involve hearing or seeing things that do not exist outside of the mind. Schizophrenia does not cause someone to be violent and people with schizophrenia do not have a split personality. The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. Most experts believe the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Schizophrenia usually starts in late adolescence or early adulthood. It can begin in early adolescence, although rarely before the age of 10. In the UK, approximately 14.5 of every 1,000 people experience a lifetime prevalence of schizophrenia or schizophrenia-related disorders. Schizophrenia is usually treated with a combination of medicine and therapy tailored to each individual. In most cases, this will be antipsychotic medicines and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). There isn't currently a cure for schizophrenia. Some people find many of their symptoms get better with treatment, while others find that their symptoms stop for long periods or never come back. For other people schizophrenia is something they learn to live with long-term.
Scoliosis is where the spine twists and curves to the side. In most cases the cause of scoliosis is unknown. Scoliosis can develop at any age, but is most common in children aged 10-15. In the UK, around three or four in every 1,000 children need treatment for scoliosis. Scoliosis more common in females than males.
Signs of scoliosis include:
- Uneven shoulders
- Leaning to one side
- A visibly curved spine
- Clothes not fitting well
- One shoulder or hip sticking out
- The ribs sticking out on one side
Treatment for scoliosis depends on the person's age, how severe the curve is, and whether it's likely to get worse with time. Many people will not need any treatment and only a small number will need to have surgery on their spine. In children, if the curve of the spine is getting worse, they may have to wear a back brace for 23 hours of the day. This will not correct the curve, but might help stop it getting worse. In adults, if the curve of the spine is getting worse, they may need back surgery. One type of operation is to have the spine straightened using metal rods, screws, hooks or wires - this is left in place permanently. In particularly severe cases of scoliosis the ribcage can be pushed against the heart and lungs, causing breathing problems and making it difficult for the heart to pump blood around the body. Most people with scoliosis are able to live normal lives and can do most activities, including exercise and sports.
Stammering, also sometimes referred to as stuttering, is a relatively common speech problem in childhood, which can persist into adulthood. Stammering is when you repeat sounds or syllables, make sounds longer, or a word gets stuck or does not come out at all. Stammering varies in severity from person to person, and from situation to situation. Someone might have periods of stammering followed by times when they speak relatively fluently. A listener who seems impatient may make it harder for a person with a stammer to speak. It is important that the listener gives out a feeling of patience, calm, and peace. Attempting to fill in the gaps is often an attempt to help, but it can be perceived as impatience. Stammering affects 1% of adults worldwide. Approximately 23,200 students in UK higher education are affected by stammering. Men are around 3 to 4 times more likely to stammer than women. Verbal testing, group collaboration and group presentations are used widely in university. People who stammer can find these tasks extremely difficult and therefore perform poorly when compared to non-stammering peers.
Treatment may not eliminate all stammering, but it can teach skills that help to improve speech fluency and develop effective communication.The most common form of treatment is speech therapy.
Abed Ahmed, @STAMMER_TEACHER
"My inability to speak fluently has resulted in many sad moments for me from a young age. However, it's shaped me to become a stronger person. The only difference now is that I stammer with confidence and with a smile on my face. I just don't have time to worry about other people's thoughts of me."
Tourette's syndrome is a condition that causes a person to make involuntary sounds and movements called tics. The cause of Tourette's syndrome is unknown. Over 300,000 children and adults are living with Tourette's syndrome in the UK. It is more common in boys. Symptoms of Tourette's syndrome usually start during childhood. Tics are fast, repetitive muscle movements that result in sudden and difficult to control body jolts or sounds. Some tics affect body movement (motor tics) and others result in a sound (vocal or phonic tics).
Examples of tics include:
- Swearing *This is rare, only affecting around 1 in 10 of people with Tourette's syndrome
- Eye rolling
- Animal sounds
- Jerking of the head or limbs
- Saying random words and phrases
- Repeating a sound, word or phrase
Tics are not usually harmful to a person's overall health, but physical tics, such as jerking of the head, can be painful. Tics can be worse on some days than others. Most people with Tourette's syndrome experience a strong urge before a tic (similar to the feeling you have before you sneeze). These feelings are known as premonitory sensations and are only relieved after the tic has been carried out. Some people can control their tics for a short while - this requires concentration. Controlling tics can be tiring. A person may have a sudden release of tics after a day trying to control them. There's no cure for Tourette's syndrome and most children with tics do not need treatment for them. If treatment is required or wanted, this is often done through medication and behavioural therapy.
In the UK, there are almost 2 million people living with sight loss. Of these 2 million people, around 360,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted. For some people, sight loss comes suddenly and for others, it’s a part of long-term health issues. Guide dogs are assistance dogs trained to lead blind or visually impaired people around obstacles. It is estimated that there are 4,800 working guide dogs in the UK. Braille is a system of raised dots that can be read with the fingers by people who are blind or who have low vision. Braille is not a language. The white cane is a long cane that helps someone with low vision or vision loss navigate and avoid obstacles. The cane is an aid that helps identify dents, platform edges, steps, and uneven surfaces.
There is a huge range of assistive technologies to help people with visual impairments, including:
- Screen reader
- Screen magnifier
- Audio description
- Refreshable braille screen
- Speech recognition software
Lord Chris Holmes, BRITAIN'S MOST SUCCESSFUL PARALYMPIC SWIMMER AND BARON HOLMES OF RICHMOND MBE
"Nothing worth anything is easy. Add in a disability and it’s more than doubly difficult. More than doubly difficult but still entirely achievable. University is tough for everyone, not least the first year, almost everything is new. When I went to university, I know, uni now! I was certainly more than uncertain whether I could do it. With the support of friends, tutors and wider university staff I was able to come through and achieve academically and have more than a great sporting and, yes, social experience. Always ask for help whenever you need it, most often people will. Don’t let anyone say you can’t or it’s not possible. If you think it is, it is, if you believe in what you are trying to achieve you, with help from others, can completely make it happen. Nothing I’ve done has ever been just an individual effort, it’s always been collective, a team. Do check out www.lordchrisholmes.com, www.chrisholmes.co.uk and Twitter @lordchrisholmes. If I can help, please drop me a message."
A wheelchair provides mobility, ensures better health and quality of life, and assists people with disabilities to live full and active lives in their communities. There are currently around 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK. Approximately 1/3 of wheelchair users in the UK are ambulatory users - this means that they do need to use a wheelchair but are capable of walking in some circumstances. Many different kinds of disabilities require the use of wheelchairs for mobility. Disabilities may be orthopaedic (relating to the bones and muscles) or they may be neuromuscular (relating to the nerves and muscles). There are lots of different types of wheelchairs - each with unique features that might benefit a specific type of user. The right wheelchair, whether manual or electronic, sitting or standing, reclining or tilting, will be the one that offers the best opportunities for comfort, independence, and mobility.
Aaron Fotheringham, EXTREME WHEELCHAIR ATHLETE
"If I could say anything, it would just be; once I realized I was ON a wheelchair rather than IN a wheelchair, I began to see my chair as freedom and a tool to live my life to the fullest."
Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, YOUTUBE AND TELEVISION PERSONALITY
"There are many challenges on your path to achievement as an ambulatory wheelchair user. Sometimes people's perceptions can be as large as the physical obstacles you face. But, you are always more than other people's impression of you, live for yourself and your own sense of purpose."