Putting a Spotlight On
Each month The Arc of New Jersey Family Institute spotlights a different developmental disability to help build awareness and educate others about the disability. Learn more below.
What is Intellectual Disability ?
is characterized by below-average intelligence or mental ability and a lack of skills necessary for day-to-day living. People with intellectual disabilities can and do learn new skills, but they learn them more slowly. There are varying degrees of intellectual disability, from mild to profound.
Someone with intellectual disability has limitations in two areas. These areas are:
Intellectual functioning. Also known as IQ, this refers to a person’s ability to learn, reason, make decisions, and solve problems.
Adaptive behaviors. These are skills necessary for day-to-day life, such as being able to communicate effectively, interact with others, and take care of oneself.
IQ (intelligence quotient) is measured by an IQ test. The average IQ is 100, with the majority of people scoring between 85 and 115. A person is considered intellectually disabled if he or she has an IQ of less than 70 to 75.
What are the signs of Intellectual Disability?
Rolling over, sitting up, crawling, or walking late
Talking late or having trouble with talking
Slow to master things like potty training, dressing, and feeding himself or herself
Difficulty remembering things
Inability to connect actions with consequences
Behavior problems such as explosive tantrums
Difficulty with problem-solving or logical thinking
In children with severe or profound intellectual disability, there may be other health problems as well. These problems may include seizures, mood disorders (anxiety, autism, etc.), motor skills impairment, vision problems, or hearing problems.
How is an intellectual disability diagnosed?
Intellectual disability may be suspected for many different reasons. If a baby has physical abnormalities that suggest a genetic or metabolic disorder, a variety of tests may be done to confirm the diagnosis. These include blood tests, urine tests, imaging tests to look for structural problems in the brain, or electroencephalogram (EEG) to look for evidence of seizures.
In children with developmental delays, the doctor will perform tests to rule out other problems, including hearing problems and certain neurological disorders. If no other cause can be found for the delays, the child will be referred for formal testing.
Three things factor into the diagnosis of intellectual disability: interviews with the parents, observation of the child, and testing of intelligence and adaptive behaviors. A child is considered intellectually disabled if he or she has deficits in both IQ and adaptive behaviors. If only one or the other is present, the child is not considered intellectually disabled.
After a diagnosis of intellectual disability is made, a team of professionals will assess the child’s particular strengths and weaknesses. This helps them determine how much and what kind of support the child will need to succeed at home, in school, and in the community.
What services are available for people with intellectual disability?
For babies and toddlers, early intervention programs are available. A team of professionals works with parents to write an Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP. This document outlines the child’s specific needs and what services will help the child thrive. Early intervention may include speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, family counseling, training with special assistive devices, or nutrition services.
School-age children with intellectual disabilities (including preschoolers) are eligible for special education for free through the public school system. This is mandated by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Parents and educators work together to create an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, which outlines the child’s needs and the services the child will receive at school. The point of special education is to make adaptations, accommodations, and modifications that allow a child with an intellectual disability to succeed in the classroom.