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A closer look at Intellectual Disability

More... American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

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. An intellectual disability is not a disease and it is not contagious. It should not be confused with mental illness. Intellectual disabilities affect up to 7.5 million individuals in the United States, according to one survey. Intellectual disabilities cross racial, ethnic, educational, social, and economic backgrounds. One in 10 American families has a family member with an intellectual disability.

The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities defines intellectual disability on the basis of three criteria:
1. Intellectual functioning level (IQ) around 70 to as high as 75,

2. Significant limitations in two or more skills needed to adapt to daily living, and

3. A condition that is present from childhood. This definition is accompanied by an assessment of a person's strengths and weaknesses in adaptive skills for daily living and the resulting support services that the person needs. Levels of support range from intermittent to limited to extensive to pervasive. Intermittent support might be "as needed" help (in finding a job, for example), whereas limited support may occur over a limited time, such as transition from school to work. Extensive support means assistance that a person needs on a daily and regular basis at home or work, while pervasive support can mean total dependence on others, including life-sustaining care.

An interdisciplinary team looks at the following adaptive skills in assessing a  persons functioning level: communication, self-care, home living, social skills, leisure, health and safety, self-direction, functional academics, community use, and work.

Intellectual disability can be caused by any condition that impairs development of the brain before birth, during birth, or during childhood. Although hundreds of causes have been connected to intellectual disability, the three major causes are Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, and fragile X syndrome.

Generally, the causes can be put in categories such as genetic conditions, problems during pregnancy, problems at birth (especially premature and low birth weight), childhood diseases and trauma, and poverty and environmental deprivation.
The key to understanding intellectual disability is recognizing that adaptive skills are learned behavior. This means that each individual may learn daily living skills to the limits of that individual's physical and intellectual capacity. A person with intellectual limits may not be diagnosed as intellectually disabled if the person masters enough adaptive skills to cope with daily life in his or her typical environment. Thus, the challenge in considering adoption of a child with an intellectual disability is to assess the family's own ability to meet the child's needs to learn and grow as far as possible.

This, of course, is what parents want for all children--to see them reach their potential, whatever it might be.

If you are a Texas resident and are not approved as a foster or adoptive family, please fill out our Adoption and Foster Care Interest form in the Get Started section.

If you have questions or want to inquire about a specific child or sibling group, contact the Texas Adoption Resource Exchange (TARE) or call 1-800-233-3405.

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