Intellectual Disabilities

Downs Syndrome group at community center

Facts About Intellectual Disability

Intellectual disability is a term used when there are limits to a person’s ability to learn at an expected level and function in daily life. Levels of intellectual disability vary greatly in children. Children with intellectual disabilities might have a hard time letting others know their wants and needs and taking care of themselves. An intellectual disability could cause a child to learn and develop more slowly than other children of the same age. It could take longer for a child with an intellectual disability to learn to speak, walk, dress, or eat without help, and they could have trouble learning in school.

An injury, disease, or a problem in the brain can cause an intellectual disability any time before a child turns 18 years old – even before birth. For many children, the cause of their intellectual disability is not known. Some of the most commonly known causes of intellectual disability – like Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, fragile X syndrome, genetic conditions, congenital disabilities, and infections – happen before birth. Others happen while a baby is being born or soon after birth. Still, other causes of intellectual disability do not occur until a child is older; these might include serious head injury, stroke, or certain infections.

Usually, the more severe the degree of intellectual disability, the earlier parents or someone else notice the signs. However, it might still be hard to tell how young children will be affected later in life.

There are many signs of intellectual disability. For example, children with an intellectual disability may:

  • sit up, crawl, or walk later than other children
  • learn to talk later, or have trouble speaking
  • find it hard to remember things
  • have difficulty understanding social rules
  • have trouble seeing the results of their actions
  • have trouble solving problems

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Younger and older person with downs syndrome

Learning Disorders In Children

Many children may struggle in school with some topics or skills from time to time. When children try hard and still struggle with a specific set of skills over time, it could be a sign of a learning disorder. Having a learning disorder means that a child has difficulty in one or more areas of learning, even when overall intelligence or motivation is not affected.

Some of the symptoms of learning disorders are

  • Difficulty telling right from left
  • Reversing letters, words, or numbers, after first or second grade
  • Difficulties recognizing patterns or sorting items by size or shape
  • Difficulty understanding and following instructions or staying organized
  • Difficulty remembering what was just said or what was just read
  • Lacking coordination when moving around
  • Difficulties doing tasks with the hands, like writing, cutting, or drawing
  • Difficulty understanding the concept of time

Examples of learning disorders include

  • Dyslexia – difficulty with reading
  • Dyscalculia – difficulty with math
  • Dysgraphia – difficulty with writing

Children with learning disorders may feel frustrated that they cannot master a subject despite trying hard, and may act out, act helpless, or withdraw. Learning disorders can also be present with emotional or behavioral disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or anxiety. The combination of problems can make it particularly hard for a child to succeed in school. Properly diagnosing each disorder is crucial, so that the child can get the right kind of help for each.

Children with learning disorders often need extra help and instruction that are specialized for them. Having a learning disorder can qualify a child for special education services in school. Schools usually do their own testing for learning disorders to see if a child needs intervention. An evaluation by a healthcare professional is needed if there are other concerns about the child’s behavior or emotions. Parents, healthcare providers, and the school can work together to find the right referrals and treatment.

Children with specific learning disabilities are eligible for special education services or accommodations at school under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA)  and an anti-discrimination law known as Section 504.

Down syndrome baby playing at home
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