Open Access Open Badges Research

Childhood disability in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: a literature review

Michelle DiGiacomo12*, Patricia M Davidson1, Penelope Abbott34, Patricia Delaney3, Tessa Dharmendra1, Sarah J McGrath1, Joanne Delaney3 and Frank Vincent3

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Cardiovascular and Chronic Care; Faculty of Health, University of Technology Sydney, PO Box 123, Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia

2 Curtin University, Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute, Perth 6845, Australia

3 Aboriginal Medical Service Western Sydney, PO Box 3160, Mt Druitt, NSW 2770, Australia

4 University of Western Sydney, Penrith, New South Wales 1797, Australia

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International Journal for Equity in Health 2013, 12:7  doi:10.1186/1475-9276-12-7

Published: 18 January 2013



Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have higher rates of disability than non-Indigenous children and are considered doubly disadvantaged, yet there is very little data reflecting prevalence and service access to inform design and delivery of services. Failing to address physical, social, and psychological factors can have life-long consequences and perpetuate longstanding health disparities.


A narrative literature review was undertaken to identify peer reviewed literature describing factors impacting on the prevention, recognition, and access to support and management of disability in Indigenous Australian children.


Twenty-seven peer-reviewed journal articles met inclusion criteria. The majority of articles focused on the hearing loss and learning disabilities consequent of otitis media. Few articles reported data on urban or metropolitan Indigenous populations or described interventions. Individual/community-, provider-, and systems level factors were identified as impacting on recognition and management of disability in young Indigenous children.


Given the burden of childhood disability, the limited literature retrieved is concerning as this is a barometer of activity and investment. Solutions addressing childhood disability will require collaboration between health, social and educational disciplines as well as an increased investment in prevention, identification and promotion of access.

Aboriginal and Torres strait islander; Childhood; Disability; Early intervention