Intellectual disability is a condition that is identified and characterized by low intelligence. It is diagnosed before 18 years of age and it is a neurodevelopmental disorder. About 6.5 million people in the US have this condition.
Many people think that learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities are the same, which is wrong. Learning disability is a limitation in a specific academic area. Mostly, those having this condition have difficulties with reading, writing, and maths. Intellectual disability is different and it affects the intellectual capabilities of a person.
People having it generally have a low IQ while they also have difficulties keeping up with the daily tasks and routine.
Other than this, there are a number of other genetic conditions and mental disorders.
Know more about this condition in this blog.
Intellectual Disability Definition - What is Intellectual Disability?
According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, “Intellectual disability is a disability characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills. This disability originates before the age of 22.” (aaidd)
It was previously known as mental retardation and some even believed that it is the same as the learning disability. People and children with intellectual disabilities, ID, often have low intelligence. They are not able to do the everyday tasks and routine work also.
They can learn new skills but they will take significantly more time than other people of their age. Their education system is also different since they could not keep up with mainstream schooling.
Since these people are intellectually challenged, they have IQs less than 70 to 75. The intelligence is measured with an IQ test with most of the people falling between 85 and 115. A specialist checks the child’s skills and intellectual abilities.
This includes the child’s ability to feed and dress himself, to communicate, and to understand others. Children having this condition are slower to learn and they need a specifically designed curriculum and system.
However, this does not mean that individuals with an intellectual disability could not learn new skills or hold a job. They have low intelligence but with help, they could learn new things and skills to live on their own.
Intellectual Disability vs. Learning Disability - Are They the Same?
No, intellectual disability and learning disability differ from each other in a lot of ways.
Many people think that both of these disabilities are the same. This is mainly because, in Britain, they refer to learning disabilities as intellectual disabilities.
However, in the US, both of these are considered different from each other. People having these conditions have different signs and symptoms. Some of the key differences between both of these conditions are given below.
|Key Areas of Disability
|The person has an IQ below 70 and could not carry on with his daily living, and routine tasks without help. Some of their dysfunctional areas are;
- Decision making
|The person has average, sometimes high intelligence and IQ. Below are the key areas that are affected as a result of this condition.
- Alphabets Difficulty
- Difficulty in Processing Words and Sounds
|The disability could be identified earlier. It is categorized into three groups including;
- Intellectual Functions Disability - problem-solving, reasoning, academics, and social interaction
- Difficulties in Adaptation - failure to adapt to the developmental and social standards suitable for the age
- The occurrence of both the above two disabilities in the childhood or teenage
|Since it is related specifically to learning, the signs may not appear earlier. It appears mostly when the child reaches the school-going age. The features include;
- Poor and Slow Reading
- Slow and Poor Handwriting
- Poor Spellings and Comprehension
- Poor Math Fluency
- Poor Memory
- Poor Time Management
|Types and Subtypes
|It is classified or divided on the basis of severity and IQ. Based on how low the IQ is, it is divided into the following subtypes;
- Mild Disability - 50-70
- Moderate Disability - 35-49
- Severe Disability - 20-34
- Profound Disability - less than 20
|It is classified on the areas of difficulty that the kid or person has. Based on it, it is divided into the following types:
- Others - Dystopia, Auditory Processing Disorder, Nonverbal Learning Disability, etc.
|Impact on Daily Life and Routine
|The life and routine of an intellectually disabled person are extremely affected.
They could not do normal everyday tasks like feeding and dressing, making friends, communicating, and academics.
|A person having a learning disability has difficulties related to academics only.
They could be slow to learn and comprehend the written words but they are otherwise normal.
|Treatment and Cure
|The condition is a lifelong condition and could not be cured. However, it could be controlled through medication, counseling, and therapy.
Some treatment methods include;
- Speech Therapy
- Communication Help
- Behavioral Therapy
The treatment or management methods depend on the kind of learning limitation a person has.
Some of those are given below.
- Dyslexia - special teaching techniques, classroom modifications, usage of audio learning material.
- Dysgraphia - oral exams instead of written, usage of audio-visual teaching material.
- Dyscalculia - visual techniques, memory aids, and computers.
Types of Intellectual Disabilities - How Many Types of ID are There?
Based on the cause of the disability, ID is divided into a number of different kinds and types. People having this disability process the information slowly and they take considerably more time to learn new skills.
Below are some of the types of intellectual disability.
Fragile X Syndrome - It is one of the most common causes in case of an inherited intellectual disability. It is a genetic disorder, caused due to a change in the DNA structure of the X chromosome.
People with this syndrome may have other kinds of difficulties also. These difficulties and limitations include physical, developmental, emotional, and behavioral dysfunction. However, the severity depends on the level of disability.
Symptoms include ADHD, anxiety, intellectual disability, delayed development, hand flapping, poor social skills, poor eye contact, and others. You can learn more about what is anxiety to deal with it successfully.
Down Syndrome - It is a genetic disorder that is a result of a faulty chromosome 21 in the DNA. It is the most commonly found genetic chromosomal disorder that may also cause learning disabilities in kids.
People having this syndrome share a wide range of physical and growth-related traits. Moreover, they are also at a high risk of heart and other diseases.
Key physical characteristics related to this syndrome are a rounded face, upward slanted eyes, and a short structure. They may also have a wide range of learning and intellectual disabilities.
Developmental Delay - When a child’s development is slower than normal then he is suffering from developmental delay. This includes things like their ability to move, learn, understand, interact and communicate.
These kids do not behave like the kids of their age. However, these kids may develop more rapidly or slowly afterward.
Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS) - It is a rare genetic disorder. Around 1 person in 10 to 20 thousand people is affected by it. This syndrome is a result of a flaw in chromosome 15.
People suffering from this syndrome are constantly hungry as their hunger remains constant 24/7. They are constantly hungry because the hypothalamus part of their brain does not tell them that they are full.
Some symptoms include some form or level of intellectual disability, poor muscle tone, and short structure. They may also have distinct facial features like light skin and hair, a thin upper lip, a turned-down mouth, almond-shaped eyes, and a narrow head.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) - FASD refers to the disorders or syndromes that have occurred because the mother drank alcohol.
It happens when the alcohol enters the mother’s bloodstream and transfers into the baby’s blood. As a result, the baby is exposed to a number of syndromes and physical and mental diseases.
The child has distinct facial features. Besides, he may also have health issues like heart and kidney diseases, delayed growth, and joints’ deformity.
Due to similar symptoms, many cases are wrongly diagnosed with ADHD and autism and do not receive proper treatment and help.
Autism Spectrum disorder is a different condition and has different signs and treatments.
Intellectual Disability Symptoms - How to Identify the Signs of ID?
The signs of the disability could vary, depending on the severity of the condition. If the signs are severe then it will be diagnosed. However, it will be difficult to predict how much a child will be affected by it in later life.
Some of the key signs and symptoms of ID include;
- Crawling, sitting up, walking, and rolling over late.
- Delayed talking and difficulties in talking.
- Slow to grasp and learn basic skills like potty training, feeding, and dressing.
- Poor memory or difficulties in remembering things.
- Not being able to create and understand the connection between actions and their results.
- Explosive and sudden tantrums, and other behavioral issues.
- Poor reasoning, and problem-solving skills.
- Lesser or no curiosity at all.
- Failure to adapt according to the situation.
- Difficulties in remembering and following social rules.
Kids having a severe intellectual disability may have other health issues also. These issues include severe mood swings or mood disorders, seizures, anxiety, vision and hearing disabilities, and poor motor skills.
These kids and adults may also be depressed due to their condition. Knowing about what depression is will help you to reach out and help such people.
Intellectual Disability Causes - What Causes Intellectual Disability?
Like other disabilities, the core or root causes of intellectual disability are unknown and no one could say anything for sure. There could be a number of reasons and causes for the disorder and they could either be by birth or acquired.
Some of the common causes of ID are explained below.
Genetic Reasons - In case of this reason or cause, syndromes like Down Syndrome and Fragile X Syndrome could happen.
Pregnancy Complications - Alcohol or drug abuse during the pregnancy and factors like infections, malnutrition, and preeclampsia could cause several disabilities.
Childbirth Complications - Childbirth difficulties like shortage of oxygen could result in intellectual disabilities. It could also happen if the baby has extremely low birth weight.
Diseases and Injuries - Diseases or infections like measles, meningitis, and whooping cough could lead to intellectual disability in the child.
Besides, dangerous head injury, neglect, near drowning, malnutrition, and exposure to harmful substances like lead could also cause disability.
Unknown Causes - Many times, the doctors could not identify what actually caused the disorder and, unfortunately, it happens many times.
Besides, an intellectual disability could also be a result of any other co-occurring condition. It is a spectrum condition and it could occur in kids having other kinds of disabilities.
Some of these collaborative disorders include ADHD, a specific kind of learning disorder, autism, and social communication disorder.
Can We Prevent Intellectual Disability?
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the most common form of preventable intellectual disorder. To prevent it, a pregnant woman must avoid alcohol and drugs. She must get proper prenatal care, daily pregnancy vitamin, and vaccinations against certain kinds of infections and diseases.
In case someone is having such a family history, they must get genetic testing before trying to have a baby.
Ultrasound and amniocentesis can also help the pregnant couple to know if their child has a disability. However, these tests could only help them know about the disorder, not cure it.
Diagnosis - How is Intellectual Disability Diagnosed?
“Is it possible to diagnose intellectual disability?”
Yes, with proper testing and observation, it is possible to diagnose it.
There could be a number of reasons due to which the parents may ask for the testing. The tests include urine tests, blood tests, imaging, and electroencephalogram (EEG), to confirm the diagnosis.
In the case of kids, delays in development and some distinct facial features may hint at the disorder. However, to confirm it, doctors perform tests like audio-visual testing and IQ testing. Out of the two, IQ testing is considered more significant.
Kids having ID have a low IQ and dysfunctional adaptive behavior.
IQ Testing - Intelligence Quotient helps in measuring a child’s intelligence and problem-solving ability. IQ between 100 and 115 is considered normal. Intellectually disabled children have IQ less than 70 to 55, or even lower.
Dysfunctional Adaptive Behavior - Intellectual disability affects a child’s adaptive skills also. These skills include:
- Personal care skills
- Social and communication capability
- Learning skills
- Safety consciousness
- Usage of money
With proper guidance, kids with ID can learn new skills and could be at least partially independent. The same goes for adults also.
A child must lack in both the areas for being declared intellectually disabled. If a child lacks in one area and is normal in the other area then he is not considered afflicted.
Intellectual Disability Treatment - Can it be Cured or Treated?
Unfortunately no. Intellectual disability is a lifelong condition that could not be cured. However, through early diagnosis and intervention, it could be managed better.
Below are some ways to help kids and people with intellectual disabilities.
- Early intervention
- Special education
- Transition planning and services
- Family support
- Suitable housing
- Helpful day programs
- Vocational programs
With these methods, they will learn better. Also, it will be easier for them to learn new skills that are necessary for normal and routine life.
How to Help a Child with Intellectual Disability?
Working with this disability is difficult. There are a number of ways through which teachers and parents could help the affected kid.
Helpful Tips for Teachers
Teachers play a significant role in helping the child, having an intellectual disability. Since these kids have special needs, they need a special and individual study plan also.
Below are some of the ways through which you could help an intellectually disabled child.
- Learn about the disability as much as you can.
- Follow the child’s IEP, Individual Education Plan, and make the needed changes for the child.
- Be demonstrative and explain the tasks and things with the help of visual aids.
- Break longer and complicated tasks into shorter, more doable, and easy-to-understand steps.
- Assist the child in doing these tasks and give feedback.
- Teach the child real-life skills like social skills and skills related to daily life.
- Help him to participate in different student groups at school.
- Work in collaboration with the parents of the child and share a daily progress report with the school personnel.
By following the child’s IEP and keeping in touch with the parents, you can help the child.
Helpful Tips for Parents
We know that as a parent, it could be difficult to manage everything while helping your child. However, with patience and proper knowledge, you can definitely do it.
Below are some ways through which you could help your child learn better.
- Learn about the disability and use online and printed sources like books for it.
- Be patient and do not lose hope because your kid has a lifetime to learn new skills and grow.
- Keeping his age in mind, give him little chores at home. Demonstrate how to do each chore and help him with it till he learns.
- Give constructive feedback to your child.
- Help him practice the skills that he learns at school so that he memorizes them.
- Help your child participate in social activities in the community.
- Reach out and talk to other parents with intellectually disabled kids. They will give practical advice about how to help your child in a better way.
- Work with the school to develop your child’s IEP.
- Cherish the gift that you have.
Generally, public schools have the facility of testing kids with any learning or intellectual disability. Choose such a school for your child so that you or your child do not have to face any issues.
Besides the usual medication, study plans, and help, having a service animal also helps people and kids with intellectual disabilities. You can contact us to know how to get a service animal if you need one for yourself or your child.
These animals are trained dogs that provide companionship, security, and the needed support to such people.
However, to get one, the person must qualify for it. Fortunately, an intellectually disabled person is qualified to get a service dog. Just contact an organization that offers service dog adoption and talk to them about it.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is Intellectual Disability a Mental Disorder?
No, it is not a disorder or a disease but it is a condition. The people having it are born with it and, unfortunately, it cannot be cured. But, with help and patience, these people and kids could learn the basic life skills and be at least partially independent.
What is Mild Intellectual Disability?
People having a mild intellectual disability are slow in all areas of life. But since the condition is not that severe, they could learn to be independent. This form of ID is the most common one and people having it could have a normal life.
Can the Intellectual Disability Improve?
With timely and proper intervention and support, the effects of the condition could be minimized but it cannot be cured. It is a lifelong condition. All a person could do is to learn how to manage it better and improve the overall functioning to some extent.
What is Borderline Intellectual Disability?
The condition is also known as borderline retardation. The person having the condition has a low IQ, between 70 and 85, but not low enough to be considered a disability, below 70. The condition is not as severe as the ID and could be improved with proper guidance and help.
Is Dyslexia a Form of Intellectual Disability?
No, Dyslexia is a form of learning disability, not an intellectual disability. The kids and people having this condition have difficulties in reading and writing. This is why many people think that it is the same as intellectual disability.
Learning disabilities are different from ID and people having them are otherwise normal in their daily life. The core areas where they lack are reading, writing, and maths.
Is Mental Retardation a Hereditary Condition?
The condition could be caused due to a number of factors and reasons. Among them, Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is an inherited form of retardation.
How Common is the Intellectual Disability?
About 1 percent of the global population is intellectually challenged. Among those, nearly 85% of the people have a mild intellectual disability. Moreover, the ratio of intellectually disabled men is more than women affected by the same disability.