Intellectual Disabilities


An intellectual disability (ID) or cognitive impairment refers to significant limitations in functioning related to below average intelligence. It can be caused by an injury, disease or abnormality of the brain that happens before the person is 18 years old. People who have an intellectual disability may learn at a slower pace and might need assistance in other areas like communication, self-care, self-direction, health and safety, leisure, work and functional academics. The symptoms can range from Mild to Severe.

The nation’s special education law, the IDEA, defines Intellectual Disability as significantly sub average general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.” [34 Code of Federal Regulations §300.7(c)(6)]


Causes of Intellectual Disabilities are typically known and can be identified. There are two skill areas that are monitored to diagnose Mental Retardation. The ability of a person’s brain to learn, think, solve problems, and make sense of the world (called IQ or intellectual functioning) and whether the person has the skills he or she needs to live independently (called adaptive behavior, or adaptive functioning). A child must have significant limitations in two or more areas of adaptive behavior.

For clinical diagnosis, I.Q. represents a persons’ intellectual functioning. It is typically measured by an IQ test where the average score is on the test 100. Individuals with scores below 70 to 75 are clinically thought to have Mental Retardation

What to Expect

Intellectual disability is indicative of the inability to learn on an average level. Other causes of Intellectual Disability or Mental Retardation can occur during pregnancy, from childhood diseases, poor nutrition, being reared in a deprived environment, or from birth complications. Often prenatal or following birth, a child will be screened for various genetic disorders or abnormal genes which may have a secondary cause.

Often limitations of a child’s adaptive functioning and behavior become apparent early in childhood. Parents should continue to encourage learning new skills, which may take longer to teach. With assistance, trainings and limited to extensive supports, many individuals with Intellectual Disabilities live typical setting and have live a typical lifestyle and with the teachings of adaptive skills, one can live as independently as possible. There is no “cure” for an established disability, though with appropriate support and teaching, most individuals can learn to do many things and achieve greater independence.

Some adults with ID live and work independently in our community, while others depend on the support of family members and professionals. Individuals can live in a variety of settings such as independent apartments, group homes, supervised apartment settings, family members’ homes, or more structured residential care.