Intellectual Disability

What is intellectual disability?

It is a term used when a person has limitations in general intellectual functioning (understanding & learning) existing with deficits in adaptive behaviour. The disability originates before the age of 18.

Intellectual functioning —also called intelligence—refers to general mental capacity, such as learning, reasoning, problem solving, and so on. Persons with intellectual disability also exhibit limitations in adaptive behaviour such as getting dressed, feeding oneself, going to the toilet, and communicating with peers and family members:

“Common Signs of Intellectual Disability”

  • Crawling or walking later than other children
  • Find it hard to remember things
  • Unable to grasp the concept of money, time, number concepts
  • Have trouble understanding social rules and learning social skills
  • Have trouble managing the activities of daily living and personal care
  • Unable to see the results or consequences of actions
Education for Persons with Intellectual Disability

One way to measure intellectual functioning is through an IQ test. Generally, an IQ test score of around 70 or as high as 75 indicates a limitation in intellectual functioning. Understanding the degree of impairment helps us relate better to the individual’s special needs. Consequently, educational programmes require a different approach across the range of ability levels.

Level of Retardation

IQ Range
50 – 70
35 – 50
20 – 50
below 20 – 25

For the mildly and moderately intellectually disabled, early elementary education is heavily oriented with readiness skills, abilities that are pre-requisites for later learning. They include sitting still and paying attention to the teacher, discriminating auditory and visual stimuli, following directions, developing language, and interacting with peers in a group situation.

For the severely and profoundly intellectually disabled, educational programmes need to be properly tailored and should be characterised by the following features:

Age-appropriate Curriculum and Materials
Mental ability does not follow typical developmental norms that relate to physical age. This sometimes leads to the opposite tendency to “baby” an older severely and profoundly intellectually disabled person, which works against the goal of fostering as much independent behaviour as possible.

Functional Activities
These include learning to dress oneself by practicing on one’s own clothes. It is important to teach only what they will need in life and can learn.

Community-based Instruction
Educational programmes should take place in the community as much as possible. Instruction in activities such as how to take public transport and how to patronise a grocery store has proven more effective when done within real settings.

Integrated Therapy
Persons with multiple disabilities need the services of a variety of professionals, such as speech, physical and occupational therapists.

Interaction with Non-disabled Persons
It is beneficial for both the disabled to interact with non-disabled persons as classroom helpers.

Family Involvement
This is important for the success of any educational programming for disabled persons of all types and severity levels.

“Facts on Intellectual Disability”

  • Approximately 60 million worldwide
  • Estimates of people with intellectual disabilities living within families are as high as 50%; support of these families must be given priority as service providers cannot manage without them
  • Increasing life expectancy of this group presents new compelling needs associated with ageing
  • Ageing adults with intellectual disabilities need activity or work as a normal part of their life as continued activity prevents depression and other emotional problems

Source: International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disabilities – Fact Sheet

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