1 Intellectual Disability

Intellectual Disability

Intellectual Disability is characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning (reasoning, learning, problem solving) and in adaptive behavior, which covers a range of everyday social and practical skills. This originates before the age of 18.

Studies show that somewhere between one (1) percent and three (3) percent of Americans have an intellectual disability.

There are many reasons for intellectual disability, factors include physical, genetic and/or social causes. 

The most common conditions associated with intellectual disability are Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).There are many reasons for intellectual disability, factors include physical, genetic and/or social causes.

Common causes occur from genetic conditions (Down syndrome and Fragile X syndrome are examples), problems during pregnancy (a mother who drinks excessive alcohol while pregnant can result in FASD), problems at the time of delivery, health problems such as whooping cough, measles or meningitis, and exposure to environmental toxins like lead or mercury.

The impact of having an intellectual disability varies considerably, just as the range of abilities varies considerably among all people.  Children may take longer to learn to speak, walk and take care of their personal needs, such as dressing or eating.  It may take longer to learn in school.

As adults, some people are able to lead independent lives in the community, hold fulfilling jobs, have successful relationships, and contribute much to our world.  A small percentage will have serious, lifelong limitations in functioning, and may need paid care providers and/or family. However, with early intervention, an appropriate education and supports as an adult, all individuals can lead satisfying lives in the community.[1]

For more information on changing understanding of Intellectual Disability, and former historically limiting terms, see this interactive timeline.