Intellectual Disability

An intellectual disability (ID) is a significant limitation in an individual’s cognitive functioning and daily adaptive behaviors. Children with Intellectual Disabilities have significant difficulties in both intellectual functioning (e.g. communicating, learning, problem solving) and adaptive behavior (e.g. everyday social skills, routines, hygiene). Because, the severity of intellectual disability ranges from mild to severe, the extent to which the individuals are affected in the following areas vary from person to person. It is a is a life-long condition, usually present at birth or originating in the early years of childhood, which interferes with one’s ability to learn at the same pace or to the same extent as others. Current estimates suggest that 2% to 3% of children in the United States have some form of intellectual disability.

A person who has an intellectual disability may have difficulty understanding abstract concepts or adapting to some of the demands of daily life but are able to communicate, engage in social activities, work and participate in life as we all do, with very little support other than the natural supports we all require. Others with more severe disabilities may participate in different ways and with different levels of support. As with any individual, people who have an intellectual disability are capable of many accomplishments, and simply require an opportunity to be included in the daily life of their community in order to make their unique contribution.

Individuals with ID have intellectual deficits as well as deficits in adaptive functioning in the conceptual, social, and practical domains:

Deficits in intellectual functions:

  • Language development
  • Reasoning
  • Problem solving
  • Planning
  • Abstract thinking
  • Judgment
  • Academic learning
  • Learning from experience

Deficits in Adaptive Functioning

  • Failure to meet developmental and sociocultural standards for personal independence and social responsibility
  • Limited functioning in one or more daily life activities (e.g., communication, social participation, and independent living) across settings–in the home, school, work, and community).

The level of support needed for adaptive functioning (i.e., performance of basic life skills) determines the severity level for ID.

Some of the signs of ID may include:

  • Learning to talk later or having difficulty speaking
  • Finding it difficult to remember things
  • Having trouble understanding the rules of social behavior
  • Having difficulty ‘seeing’ or understanding the outcomes of actions
  • Having trouble solving problems