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Intellectual disability is a disability characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills. This disability originates before the age of 18. Someone with intellectual disability has limitations in two areas. These areas are:

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

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

An IQ test measures IQ (intelligence quotient). The average IQ is 100. A person is considered intellectually disabled if he or she has an IQ of less than 70 to 75.

To measure a child’s adaptive behaviors, a specialist will observe the child’s skills and compare them to other children of the same age. Things that may be observed include how well the child can feed or dress himself or herself; how well the child is able to communicate with and understand others; and how the child interacts with family, friends, and other children of the same age.

There are many different signs of intellectual disability in children. Signs may appear during infancy, or they may not be noticeable until a child reaches school age. It often depends on the severity of the disability. Some of the most common signs of intellectual disability are:


  • Rolling over, sitting up, crawling, or walking late

  • Talking late or having trouble with talking

  • Slow to master things like potty training, dressing, and feeding himself or herself

  • Difficulty remembering things

  • Inability to connect actions with consequences

  • Behavior problems such as explosive tantrums

  • Difficulty with problem-solving or logical thinking

In children with severe or profound intellectual disability, there may be other health problems as well. These problems may include seizures, mood disorders (anxiety, autism, etc.), motor skills impairment, vision problems, or hearing problems.*


A child with an Intellectual Disability shall have reduced general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, which prevents the child from receiving reasonable educational benefit from general education. There are two key components within this definition: a student’s IQ and his or her capability to function independently, usually referred to as adaptive behavior.

An IQ below 70 to 75 indicates an intellectual disability.  Adaptive behavior refers to the domains and skills that people need to function independently at home, at school, and in the community. Adaptive behavior skills include:

  • Communication: Interacting with others, using expressive and receptive language, writing, and listening, etc.

  • Self-Care: Eating, dressing, hygiene, toileting, grooming, etc.

  • Home Living: Caring for clothes, housekeeping, performing property maintenance, preparing food, cooking, budgeting, etc.

  • Social: Getting along with others, being aware of other people’s feelings, forming relationships.

  • Motor: Fine motor, gross motor, sensory motor, etc.

  • Practical Academics: Literacy and numeracy, etc.

  • Community: Accessing the community, transportation, shopping, safety, medical, etc.

Any assessment of adaptive skills focuses on how well children can function and maintain themselves independently and how well they meet the personal and social demands outlined for them by their cultures. “School psychologists and other assessment personnel must be conscientious about the relevance of the expectations they use as the comparison standard. Even when norm-referenced adaptive measures have been translated, this does not ensure that the items are culturally relevant or appropriate.

A comprehensive adaptive skills assessment is based on a body of evidence that reflects the child’s social, linguistic and cultural background. The measurement of adaptive behavior typically includes surveys of the child’s behavior and skills in a variety of settings, including his or her classroom, school, home, and neighborhood or community by trained personnel. Because it is not possible for one person to observe a child in all of the key environments, measurement of adaptive behavior should depend on the feedback from a number of people.

*Source Credit: Information taken from Webmd

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