Kelly de la Rocha
Intellectual disability begins in childhood. People with intellectual disability have limits in their mental functioning seen in below-average intelligence (IQ) tests and in their ability to communicate, socialize, and take care of their everyday needs. The degree of disability can vary from person to person. It can be categorized as mild, moderate, severe, or profound.
Several hundred causes of intellectual disability have been discovered, but many are still unknown. The most common ones are:
A child could be at higher risk for intellectual disability due to any of the causes listed above, or due to intellectual disability in other family members. If you are concerned that your child is at risk, tell your child's doctor.
Symptoms appear before a child reaches age 18. Symptoms vary depending on the degree of the intellectual disability. If you think your child has any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to intellectual disability. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions.
The following categories are often used to describe the level of intellectual disability:
If you suspect your child is not developing skills on time, tell the doctor as soon as possible. You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Standardized tests may be given that measure:
Children with intellectual disability have a higher risk for other disabilities such as
hearing impairment, visual problems,
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or orthopaedic conditions. Additional testing may be needed to check for other conditions.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your child. Treatment is most helpful if it begins as early as possible. Treatment includes:
To help reduce your child’s chance of becoming intellectually disabled, take the following steps:
American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Canadian Psychological Association
Special Olympics Canada
Causes and prevention of intellectual disabilities. The Arc website. Available at:
http://www.thearc.org/page.aspx?pid=2453. Updated March 1, 2011. Accessed November 18, 2015.
Daily D, Ardinger H, et al. Identification and evaluation of mental retardation.
Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(4):1059-1067.
Facts about intellectual disability. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/parents_pdfs/IntellectualDisability.pdf. Accessed November 18, 2015.
Questions and answers about persons with intellectual disabilities in the workplace. US Equal Employment Opportunities Commission website. Available at:
http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/intellectual_disabilities.cfm. Accessed November 18, 2015.
Last reviewed November 2015 by Rimas Lukas, MD
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