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.
Some causes of intellectual disability can be prevented with proper medical care. Children diagnosed with an intellectual disability are most successful when they get help early in life. If you suspect that your child may have an intellectual disability, contact your doctor.
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. Your doctor will ask 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 February 20, 2013.
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Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(4):1059-67. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20000215/1059.html. Accessed February 20, 2013.
Intellectual disability fact sheet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dd/ddmr.htm. Accessed February 20, 2013.
Intellectual disability. National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities website. Available at:
http://nichcy.org/disability/specific/intellectual. Updated January 2011. Accessed February 20, 2013.
Shapiro BK, Batshaw ML. Mental retardation (intellectual disability). In:
Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2007.
Questions and answers about persons with intellectual disabilities in the workplace. US Equal Employment Opportunities Commission website. Available at:
http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/intellectual_disabilities.html. Updated March 17, 2011. Accessed February 20, 2013.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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