Intellectual disability is a disability that limits a person’s mental capacity – the ability to learn, reason, and solve problems. It also limits a person’s adaptive behavior – the conceptual, social and practical skills that people use on an everyday basis. Intellectual disability is considered a developmental disability because it presents itself during the developmental period, which ends at the age of 18. Generally, a person who is intellectually disabled will develop more slowly than his or her peers
An IQ test can determine the level of intellectual functioning. A score around or below 70 indicates limited intellectual functioning. The level of adaptive behavior can be determined with standardized tests. However, an accurate diagnosis of intellectual disability must also take into account the cultural differences that influence the way a person behaves and the typical community environment for the person and his or her peers.
The most common causes of intellectual disability are genetic conditions such as abnormal genes passed down from parents or a flaw in the way genes combine. It can also be caused by problems experienced by the mother during pregnancy or at birth. The consumption of alcohol during pregnancy or an infection such as rubella can cause an intellectual disability. A disability can also result when the cells do not divide properly while the baby is developing in the womb or if oxygen is restricted during labor and birth.
An infant or child can develop an intellectual disability from exposure to poisons such as lead or mercury, inadequate medical care, extreme malnutrition, or diseases such as whooping cough, the measles or meningitis.
Indications of intellectual disability include a variety of signs. Sitting, crawling, walking and talking later than other children, difficulty in remembering things, and difficulty in understanding social norms and the consequences of their actions may be signs of intellectual disability. A limited ability to solve problems or think logically can also be signs.
It’s important to remember that those with intellectual disabilities also have strengths that should not be overlooked. Early intervention tailored for the individual’s specific needs will make a difference. Later in life, special education, vocational programs and community support can show positive results. With the right treatment, a person with an intellectual disability can lead a fulfilling, productive life.