Intellectual disability is a condition that involves significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills. It affects an estimated seven to eight million Americans, or about one in ten families in the United States.
Intellectual disability is not a disease, a syndrome or a medical disorder. Neither is it a form of mental illness, like depression. There is no cure for intellectual disabilities but most can learn to do many things.
Signs of Intellectual Disability
Children with intellectual disabilities (sometimes called cognitive disabilities or mental retardation) manifest slow learning and development compared with other children their age. They may have difficulty hearing, seeing, walking, or talking; poor social or interpersonal interaction; unable to think logically, lacking in practical skills such as getting dressed, feeding oneself, using the bathroom.
Causes of Intellectual Disability
There are many causes of intellectual disabilities. Among the most common are:
Genetic. Abnormal genes inherited from parents and errors when genes combine. Health or behavioral issues during pregnancy. Infections during pregnancy like rubella, syphilis and herpes simplex. Alcohol intake, smoking, drugs, malnourishment can similarly affect the development of fetus. Problems at birth. Conditions during labor or birth such as premature deIivery, low birth weight, lack of oxygen, may result to intellectual disability. Childhood illnesses or conditions. A whooping cough, the measles, chickenpox, meningitis or extreme malnutrition and exposure to toxins such as lead or mercury.
Diagnosing Intellectual Disabilities
Intellectual disabilities are determined by two main factors:
Intellectual functioning. This is usually measured through an IQ test designed to gauge the person’s conceptual ability to learn, think, solve problems. The average score is 100. People scoring below 70 to 75 are thought to have an intellectual disability. Adaptive functioning. This concerns the person’s ability to live independently. The person’s adaptive behavior is assessed according to the average abilities of other people his or her age. Typically, this involves a person’s practical skills, such as personal/health care, occupational skills, safety and travel/transportation considerations, among others; communication skills, and social skills.
Dealing with Intellectual Disability
Education. A child with an intellectual disability may do well in school but is likely to need customized help according to the type and degree of disability. This kind of assistance is not something a standard education is apt to provide. Special education is designed to suit such a need.
Adaptive skills. Intellectually disabled people may eventually be able to integrate well into society. Parents, teachers, and the community at large play critical roles in making this possible. Constantly developing an intellectually disabled person’s practical, social, communication, and other adaptive skills could help them become productive and independent.
Transition planning. Preparing a child with disability for adulthood is an important part in the process. This requires time and focus. The earlier this plan is put in place, the more likely able the child copes when the time comes.
Society and Intellectual Disability
In October 2010, Pres. Obama put into law the use of intellectual disability to replace the perjorative term, mental retardation. The law was named after an eight-year-old, Rosa Marcellino, who has Down Syndrome. Like many people with disability, Rosa has had her share of derogatory references and reactions to her condition. Through the times, the word “mental retardation” has evolved into an offensive and defamatory term thrown, not just at people who are diagnosed to be intellectually deficient but, at anyone who is regarded as stupid or feeble-minded.
A disability, most often, carries certain prejudices and misconceptions. At times, it could elicit unwanted or unnecessary reactions from the community. Their capabilities can be easily undermined. While an intellectually handicapped person may be lacking in certain functional or behavioral skills, the disability comes in varying degrees. Some are able to function independently while others require assistance.
People with intellectual disability face tough challenges brought about by their condition. It is vital that each case is assessed separately, provided proper support and for the person to be allowed involvement, wherever possible. There are many national disability organizations and publicly funded information resource centers that support the interests and advocates the cause of our differently-abled fellowmen.