Understanding Intellectual Disabilities

Between 1-3% of Americans have some form of an intellectual disability. What are intellectual disabilities? Where do they come from? How can you recognize them? What should you look for? All of these are great questions and there seem to be different answers to each one of them. The thing about intellectual disability is that no two cases are the same. Two people displaying characteristics of intellectual disability could have completely different issues. Those same two people could have very similar issues, but at a completely different severity. There is, however, a common ground of characteristics.

  • I.Q. – most people suffering from an intellectual disability have an I.Q. lower than 70-75. This can affect their ability to plan, problem solve, learn quickly or from experience, think abstractly, and see reason.
  • Adaptation- many people who have some degree of intellectual disabilities have significant limitations in at least two areas of adaptive behavior. These behaviors could be anything from socializing to skills required for living independent lives.  Some people with intellectual disabilities have severe issues with changing environments. Consistency is the key to keeping comfort levels high.
  • Early Onset- around 87% of all cases of intellectual disabilities are in mild form. What this means is that the child will have an I.Q. of 50-70 and will not be diagnosed until they are in school. The other 13% of cases are more severe. These children could have difficulty learning basic skills such as talking, walking, and eating on their own. Almost all cases of intellectual disability occur before the age of 18.

There are many factors which can cause intellectual disabilities.

  • Physical- many issues during pregnancy can cause intellectual disabilities.
    • FAS-Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
    • Drugs- Illicit drug exposure
    • Maternal Malnutrition or infection
    • Exposure to radiation (X-Rays)
    • Rubella- German measles
    • Lead exposure
  • Genetic- Some factors that cause intellectual disabilities are actually genes passed down from one or both parents. Other genetic factors can occur due to an error when genes combine. Common disorders linked to intellectual disabilities are:
    • PKU- phenylketonuria is a single gene disorder from a missing or defective enzyme
    • Down Syndrome- a chromosomal disorder caused by too many or too few chromosomes
    • Fragile X Syndrome- a single gene disorder located on the X chromosome
      • This disorder is the most commonly inherited cause of intellectual disabilities.
  • Psychological and Environmental- Some children can develop intellectual disabilities due to the environment in which they are raised. Psychological and Environmental factors that can cause intellectual disabilities may include but are not limited to:
    • Inadequate health care
    • Malnutrition
    • Lack of cognitive stimulation early on
    • Adverse living conditions

Intellectual disabilities are a challenge to deal with no matter how mild or sever the case. Patience and understanding are essential. There are many places you can go to find more information about intellectual disabilities. Rest assured that there is help out there for you.