Intellectual Disability Defined
Did you know that about 6.5 million people in the United States have an intellectual disability? There are more than 545,000 children, ages 6-21, who have some degree of intellectual disability and receive special education services.
According to the CDC, data from a study in Pediatrics: "Trends in the Prevalence of Developmental Disabilities in U.S. Children, 1997-2008" determined that 1 in 6 children in the U.S. had a developmental disability in 2006 - 2008.
The term “intellectual disability” is used to describe a person who has certain limitations in mental functioning and in skills such as communicating, taking care of him or herself, and social skills. Once commonly referred to as “mental retardation,” intellectual disability is now the preferred term and has even made it into the law books.
In October 2010, President Barack Obama signed Rosa’s Law into effect, which changes references in Federal law from “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability.” Further, for nearly five years there has been a campaign to end the “r-word,” which started with a grassroots effort by a family of a disabled child who decided it was time to stand up against those who use the “r-word” derogatorily.
The American Psychiatric Association is currently revising the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders for a 2013 publication date. One of the proposed changes is to replace the term "mental retardation" with "intellectual development disorder." In addition, the criteria for this diagnosis would place more emphasis on adaptive functioning skills and mental ability as opposed to just IQ by itself.
Intellectual disability is the most common developmental disability and originates before the age of 18.
The term “developmental disability” is an umbrella term that includes intellectual disability but also includes physical disabilities. For example, some developmental disabilities include physical and intellectual disabilities, which stem from genetics or other causes, such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and fetal alcohol syndrome; whereas, some developmental disabilities may only be physical, such as blindness from birth.
The diagnosis of an intellectual disability is made by looking at two main things:
1.) Intellectual functioning (IQ)—The ability of a person’s brain to learn, think, problem solve and make sense of the world.
2.) Adaptive behavior—Whether the person has the skills needed to live independently.
A person’s IQ is generally measured by an IQ test, which has an average score of 100. Those scoring below 70 to 75 are considered to have an intellectual disability.
A diagnosis of intellectual disability is not based on IQ scores alone. A person’s adaptive behavior needs to be assessed as well. This is a measurement to see how a child compares to other children of the same age when it comes to certain skills such as getting dressed, going to the bathroom, feeding one’s self, understanding what is said and being able to answer, and interacting with peers, family members, adults and others.
Signs of Intellectual Disability
There are many signs of intellectual disability. The following is a list of possible signs children could demonstrate:
They sit up, crawl or walk later than other children.
They learn to talk later, or have trouble speaking.
They find it hard to remember things.
They do not understand how to pay for things.
They have trouble understanding social rules.
They have trouble seeing the consequences of their actions.
They have trouble solving problems.
They have trouble thinking logically.
Causes of Intellectual Disability
There are many causes of intellectual disability. The following is a look at some of the most common:
Genetic conditions: Abnormal genes inherited by parents, errors when genes combine, or other defects can cause an intellectual disability. Examples include Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and phenylketonuria (PKU).
Problems during pregnancy: Babies who do not develop properly inside the womb can develop an intellectual disability. For example, a problem may occur with the way the baby’s cells divide as it grows. Other causes include a woman who drinks while she is pregnant or who gets an infection, such as rubella, during pregnancy.
Problems at birth: Problems during labor and birth, such as not getting enough oxygen, may cause a baby to develop an intellectual disability.
Health problems: Diseases such as whooping cough, the measles, or meningitis, can cause intellectual disabilities. Extreme malnutrition, not getting enough medical care, or being exposed to poisons, such as mercury or lead, can also lead to intellectual disabilities.
Treatment and Assistance
While there is no cure for intellectual disabilities, providing a person with support and teaching can enable most individuals to learn many things.
There are thousands of agencies in the U.S. that provide assistance for individuals with developmental disabilities, including state-run, for-profit, and non-profit.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a Federal law which ensures services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA regulates how early intervention and special education services are provided to infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities.