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  • Writer's pictureSruti Mohapatra

Intellectual Disabilities

Intellectual disability is a disability characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning (reasoning, learning, problem-solving) and in adaptive behaviour, which covers a range of everyday social and practical skills. This disability originates before the age of 18 (AAIDD).

  • Intellectual functioning - also known as IQ, this refers to a person’s ability to learn, reason, make decisions, and solve problems.

  • Adaptive behaviours - these are skills necessary for day-to-day life, such as being able to communicate effectively, interact with others, and take care of oneself.

IQ (intelligence quotient) is measured by an IQ test. The average IQ is 100, with the majority of people scoring between 85 and 115. A person is considered intellectually disabled if he or she has an IQ of less than 70 to 75 (WebMD)

Intellectual Disabilities can be broadly categorised to:

  • Down’s Syndrome

  • Specific Learning Disabilities

  • Autism Spectrum (ASD)

  • Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia and Non-Verbal.

Down’s Syndrome

Down syndrome (Mayo Clinic) is a genetic disorder caused when abnormal cell division results in an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21. This extra genetic material causes the developmental changes and physical features of Down syndrome. Down syndrome varies in severity among individuals, causing lifelong intellectual disability and developmental delays. It's the most common genetic chromosomal disorder and cause of learning disabilities in children. It also commonly causes other medical abnormalities, including heart and gastrointestinal disorders.

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) states even though people with Down syndrome might act and look similar, each person has different abilities. People with Down syndrome usually have an IQ (a measure of intelligence) in the mildly-to-moderately low range and are slower to speak than other children. Some common physical features of Down syndrome include:

  • A flattened face, especially the bridge of the nose

  • Almond-shaped eyes that slant up

  • A short neck

  • Small ears

  • A tongue that tends to stick out of the mouth

  • Tiny white spots on the iris (coloured part) of the eye

  • Small hands and feet

  • A single line across the palm of the hand (palmar crease)

  • Small pinky fingers that sometimes curve toward the thumb

  • Poor muscle tone or loose joints

  • Shorter in height as children and adults

Specific Learning Disabilities

SLD means a heterogeneous group of conditions wherein there is a deficit in processing language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself as a difficulty to comprehend, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations and includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and developmental aphasia (RPwD Act 2016, Schedule).

Children with learning disabilities are as smart or smarter than their peers. But they may have difficulty reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling and/or organizing information if left to figure things out by themselves or if taught in conventional ways (ldonline). A learning disability can't be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong issue. With the right support and intervention, however, children with learning disabilities can succeed in school and go on to successful, often distinguished careers later in life.

  • Dyslexia – Dyslexia is a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words (decoding). Also called reading disability, dyslexia affects areas of the brain that process language (Mayo Clinic).

  • ADHD - Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a learning disability that affects millions of children and often continues into adulthood. ADHD includes a combination of persistent problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behaviour (Mayo Clinic).

  • Dyscalculia - Math is another major area of concern when it comes to learning disabilities. Dyscalculia can range from an inability to order numbers correctly and extend to limited strategies for problem-solving. Students with math disorders may have trouble performing basic math calculations, or they may have difficulty with concepts like time, measurement or estimation.

  • Dysgraphia - Dysgraphia can be related to the physical act of writing. These students often cannot hold a pencil correctly, and their posture may be tense while trying to write. This leads them to tire easily. Dysgraphia can also refer to difficulty with written expression, students have trouble organizing their thoughts coherently(Ldonline).

  • Processing Deficits - Learning disabilities are also connected to processing deficits. In sensory disabilities, a person has difficulty understanding language despite normal hearing and vision. Non-verbal learning disabilities are neurological disorders which originate in the right hemisphere of the brain, causing problems with visual-spatial, intuitive, organizational, evaluative and holistic processing functions (ldonline).

Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD means a neuro-developmental condition typically appearing in the first three years of life that significantly affects a person's ability to communicate, understand the relationship and relate to others, and is frequently associated with unusual or stereotypical rituals or behaviours (RPwD Act 2016, Schedule). Autism is known as a “spectrum” disorder because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience. ASD occurs in all ethnic, racial, and economic groups. Although ASD can be a lifelong disorder, treatments and services can improve a person’s symptoms and ability to function.

Types of ASD

  • Asperger’s Syndrome - This is on the milder end of the autism spectrum. A person with Asperger's may be very intelligent and able to handle her daily life. She may be really focused on topics that interest her and discuss them nonstop. But she has a much harder time socially.

  • Pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). This mouthful of diagnosis included most children whose autism was more severe than Asperger's syndrome, but not as severe as an autistic disorder.

  • Autistic disorder - this older term is further along the autism spectrum than Asperger’s and PDD-NOS. It includes the same types of symptoms, but at a more intense level.

  • Childhood disintegrative disorder. This was the rarest and most severe part of the spectrum. It described children who develop normally and then quickly lose many social, language, and mental skills, usually between ages 2 and 4. Often, these children also developed a disorder.


AAIDD, American Association of Intellectual and Development Disability.



Mayo Clinic.


RPwD Act. (2016). The Schedule – Specified Disability - Retrieved 05 Apr 2020.



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