What are Intellectual Disabilities?

Intellectual disability was once more commonly known as mental retardation. It is a term that refers to people with a below average intelligence and an inability to independently perform daily living tasks. New skills can be learned by those with intellectual disabilities; however, these skills will simply be mastered at a slower pace. These disabilities can range in severity, from mild to profound, and can effect the daily lives of those with such issues in different ways.

More About Intellectual Disabilities

In order to be considered intellectually disabled, a person must be limited in two categories. These are intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior. Intellectual functioning is measured as IQ or intelligence quotient. Incorporated in intellectual functioning is the ability to reason, solve problems, make decisions and learn. Adaptive behaviors are the skills needed to get through daily life. They include effective communication, social interaction and self care.

An IQ less than 70 or 75 usually indicates that impaired intelligence is present. To give some perspective, a person of average intelligence has an IQ of approximately 100. Adaptive behaviors can be measured in comparison to those of persons of similar age. About 85% of those who fall into the category of having an intellectual disability are considered to be mildly affected. This means that, with some supports in place, these people will likely be able to live as independent, productive adults.

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Signs of Intellectual Disabilities

There are some commons signs seen in children with learning impairments. Sometimes symptoms are observed during infancy, while other signs may not be noticed until a child goes to school. In addition, Some common signs include delayed development in areas such as walking, crawling and sitting up, as well as being late to talk. Daily life skills, like potty training and getting dressed, are likely to be delayed in someone with intellectual disabilities. In addition, behavior problems are often seen. One reason for this is that it is difficult for intellectually disabled people to connect actions with possible consequences, and problem solving skills may be impaired.

Sometimes physical health issues are seen in people with severe intellectual disabilities. Some of these may be mood disorders such as anxiety and autism, seizures, vision problems, hearing difficulties or impaired motor skills.

Causes of Intellectual Disabilities

A definitive cause for intellectual impairments can’t always be determined. In fact, doctors are only able to tell about a third of the time what caused the problem. However, there are a number of common causes that often interfere with normal brain development. Often times, specific genetic conditions may be the cause. Down syndrome and fragile x syndrome are two examples. Other times, problems may occur during pregnancy to interfere with normal brain development such as malnutrition, alcohol or drug use, infection or preeclampsia.

Problems can occur during childbirth, causing impaired brain function, if the baby is somehow deprived of oxygen. Babies born very early may exhibit intellectual disabilities, as well. Medical conditions like whooping cough or measles can also cause intellectual dysfunction. Severe head injury, major neglect, abuse, near-drowning, malnutrition or exposure to toxic substances could be to blame. However, as mentioned earlier, in two-thirds of cases, the cause is not known.

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There are varying degrees in severity seen in intellectual abilities, and often there is no known cause. An intellectual disability doesn’t necessarily mean that a person won’t go on to have a very fulfilled and productive life.