What is intellectual disability

Intellectual disability is still poorly understood. It is often associated with mental illness.  In addition, since people living with intellectual disability sometimes have difficulty expressing themselves clearly or understanding others, that creates distance and makes so-called “normal” people feel ill at ease.

Let’s set the clocks to the right time. Intellectual disability is NOT an illness. It is a condition of life for the people who experience it, a permanent condition. Some people living with intellectual disability may suffer from mobility impairment or develop certain mental problems.

Defining intellectual disability

Intellectual disability is defined according to three criteria:

  • A lower-than-average IQ (70 and less)
  • Significant limitations on functioning and adaptation (slow development)
  • The early signs show up before 18 years of age

The symptoms of intellectual disability

The Institut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Québec, which also deals with questions of intellectual disability, lists the following symptoms:

  • Passivity
  • Dependence
  • Stereotyped repetitive movements
  • Acquiescence
  • Anorexia
  • Attention/concentration deficit
  • Aggressiveness
  • Anguish
  • Anxiety
  • Impulsiveness
  • Self-mutilation
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Learning difficulties
  • Difficulties in retaining and processing information
  • Difficulty in managing emotions
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor social skills
  • Great vulnerability to abuse
  • Limited judgment
  • Conditioned learning

The causes

Intellectual disability affects about 3% of the population. Of these 3%, nearly 90% have a mild disability, 7% a moderate disability, and 5% a severe disability. Intellectual disability can strike any family. It is not connected to race, education, social or economic background.

According to some studies, there are probably more than 350 causes of intellectual disability, but none specifically known. In 60% of cases, heredity is a factor. Genetic conditions are also factors.

There are before-birth factors that may have an influence, like the effects of tobacco, alcohol, drugs or poor nutrition in the pregnant woman. We can also point to problems at birth, like lack of oxygen, a neonatal infection, or premature birth. Maltreatment and neglect of children by adults may also lead to intellectual disability.