What is an Intellectual Disability?

September 14, 2018
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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When a loved one is diagnosed with a medical condition, an avalanche of questions rushes through your mind. What does the diagnosis mean? How do we treat it? How will it affect the patient’s life? What can we do to make it better?

While the term “intellectual disability” may sound self-explanatory to some, the reality is that it has many nuances and variations, especially because it stems from a wide array of conditions, such as cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, down syndrome, or fragile X syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, genetic conditions, birth defects, or infections.

An intellectual disability is characterized by significant limitations in both functioning and adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills.

Types of Intellectual Disabilities

For some children, it means that they will develop much slower than their peers. This can happen in several ways:

  • Intellectual disabilities. This may be in the form of learning disabilities, slow speech development, communication, problem solving, decision making, poor memory, behavior problems, and seizures.
  • Adaptive behavior. This includes learning how to do things for themselves such as eating, getting dressed, personal hygiene, or socializing with other people.

Some children are born with cognitive disabilities, while others develop them later in life, or as a result of brain trauma. It could also be the result of complications during pregnancy or childbirth.

Diagnosing an Intellectual Disability

When a parent or pediatrician has reason to suspect that a child may have an intellectual disability, the doctor will compare the child’s behavior with that of other children of the same age.

Sometimes, the disability is mild enough that the child simply learns slower than the average, yet they’re able to live independently as they grow into adults. Other times, the severity of the condition is substantial enough to render the child incapable of doing daily activities without assistance from caregivers.

Intellectual Disability Signs

Some of the signs of an intellectual disability are noticeable from infancy. For example, if an infant is not turning over, sitting up on their own, crawling, or walking at an age when they should be, that’s a red flag. Other common signs of an intellectual disability include:

  • Delayed speech
  • Frequent repetition of the same words
  • Not responding when called
  • Lack of curiosity
  • Inability to understand simple concepts
  • Persistence in childlike behavior past infancy
  • Inability to solve simple problems
  • Persistent behavioral issues
  • Inability to wait in line without becoming stressed
  • Inability to socialize with others
  • Speech that sounds monotonous
  • Sensory issues
  • Difficulty remembering things
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Inability to recognize common objects
  • Aggression
  • Explosive tantrums
  • Seizures

If they’re only behind for a few weeks or even a month or two, it may not be a big deal, but you should always speak about your concerns with your child’s pediatrician.

Intellectual Disabilities Treatment Options

There are different types of treatment for intellectual disabilities such as:

  1. Speech Therapy. There are many speech disorders that can be addressed with speech therapy: stuttering, difficulties processing language, difficulty stringing words together to form a sentence or prolonging particular sounds. Speech therapists incorporate play, pictures, and books to assist the child.
  2. Occupational Therapy. This type of treatment is specifically designed to assist a child in learning how to perform activities of daily living, such as brushing their teeth or grasping objects. The Occupational Therapist will take into account how the child’s psychological factors affect their development.
  3. Physical Therapy. Physical therapy is designed to help children maintain their range of motion and gross motor skills, such as walking, running, or jumping.
  4. Family Counseling. An Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) outlines the needs of the child and the services that will best serve them.

Caring for Children with Intellectual Disabilities

Children with intellectual disabilities often need a team of professionals working with them. The phrase “it takes a village” takes on new meaning: An array of pediatricians who are specialists in your child’s specific condition, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, special education teachers, psychologists, and physiotherapists, to name a few.

Depending on the child’s condition, he or she may live at home and keep regular doctor appointments, or the child may need round-the-clock care. It’s advisable for parents to learn about ways to communicate with nonverbal children.

There are federal funding benefits for disabled children of low-income families, such as Social Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI).

Contact Care Options for Kids for Pediatric Home Care Services

If your child has an intellectual disability and you need assistance to take care of him or her, we can help you. At Care Options for Kids, we have an entire team of experienced caregivers who will ensure your child’s wellbeing.

If you are considering pediatric home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.