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Intellectual Disability is a disorder characterized by below-average general intellectual functioning and a lack of skills necessary for daily living. It is most always diagnosed before age 18. Mental illness is not a disease, it is not contagious, it is not a type of mental illness. The term “intellectural disability” is a diagnostic term used to capture and standardize a group of disconnected categories of mental functioning derived from early IQ tests. The term “mental retardation” that used to be used to describe this type of disability has been replaced with “intellectual disability.” However, “intellectual disability” may also be used to describe people with significantly below-average cognitive abilities that are not an emotional or psychological disability, such as traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer’s disease. In North America, intellectual disability is included under the broader umbrella term “developmental disability,” which also includes epilepsy, autism, cerebral palsy and other disorders that develop before age 18. However, in school-based settings, the more specific term “mental retardation” is sometimes still used to describe the disability. Intellectual disability is one of 13 categories of disability under which children may be identified for special education services under Public Law 108-446. Children with intellectual disability can learn to do many things - it just takes longer and more effort than the average child.

Professionals diagnose intellectual disability by carefully looking at a person’s mental abilities and adaptive skills. Providing services to help individuals with this disability has led to a new understanding of how to define the condition. After the initial diagnosis is made, a person's strengths and weaknesses are carefully studied. Then, professionals can determine how much support or help the person needs to get along at home, in school, and in the community. This approach gives a realistic picture of each individual. It also recognizes that the "picture" can change as the person grows and learns, and their ability to function in the world grows as well.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there are three criteria for a diagnosis of intellectual disability to be made:
An IQ below 70
Significant limitations in two or more areas of adaptive behavior
Evidence that the limitations became apparent before the age of 18.

Mild disability ( IQ 60-70) in early childhood may not be obvious. It almost always takes expert assessment to distinguish between mild mental disability and learning disability or behavior problems. People with mild mental retardation can often learn to live independently and may be considered by others in their community as “slow” rather than retarded. Moderate disability (IQ 50-60) is usually always obvious within the first few years of life. As adults, these people may live with their parents or in a supportive group home. Among people with intellectual disability, only about one in eight will have a severe disability (IQ below 50.) This person will need more support and supervision their entire life. It is important to remember, however, that every child, regardless of the limitations of their cognitive functioning, is able to learn, develop and grow to some extent.



 


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