Monday, October 2, 2017

What is an Intellectual Disability Really?

For the beginning of Down syndrome awareness month, I'm reviewing common topics within the diagnosis. Intellectual Disability (ID) is associated with Down syndrome and is something that often sounds scary to new parents. This topic is often misunderstood by other people too. So let's talk about what an Intellectual Disability really looks like. 

Many people believe that those with an Intellectual Disability will not learn and have no academic skills. But, this isn't accurate.

Intellectual Disability is simply below average intelligence and a difficulty with skills needed for daily life. There is a range from mild to profound. These individuals learn, just at a slower rate. The more severe- the slower the rate. An ID means that the person often needs multiple repetitions and lots of time to learn a new concept or skill.

Those with an ID can learn. I'm not saying that everyone who has an intellectual disability will do everything their peers do, but they can learn and continue to make progress in some way.

Small children with Down syndrome may learn to do sign language. Later, they may be able to count, read, speak, and understand simple concepts. In short, they can. What each can do will vary, but they can do something.

I have come across people who have argued with me that Jaycee didn't have an ID because she performed a certain task and demonstrated some impressive skill.

There was a nurse one time who said, "She's not mentally retarded. She is using sign language. She has to be smart to do that."

To which, I smiled politely and did an inward sigh. Some people don't get it! I believe that those that are not around people with ID assume that these individuals are non-communicative, sitting in a corner somewhere not caring about anything or anyone. They assume there's no opinions, personalities, or preferences. They assume that they can't do anything.

People with an ID are much different from what some imagine. Let's take my daughter, for example. Jaycee has had intelligence testing that indicated an ID. By age 3, she knew all her colors, a few shapes, and hundreds of signs in sign language. By age 4, I was starting to do some sight word reading with her. She recognized 15-20 words in print. Jaycee was potty trained around age 5 and started using a speech generating communication device. Currently, she's reading around the first grade level. She can count objects to 10 well. Jaycee can also write her name. Jaycee knows every Disney princess, can sing along to many Disney songs, and recognizes her cousin's van miles away. There are things that she is "behind on" for sure, but she can learn and does do academics at her own pace in school. Jaycee has strengths and weaknesses like any other child.

What's your perception of a person with an Intellectual Disability?

This month I'll be blogging all 31 days in October for Trisomy 21 awareness. Come back tomorrow! 


  1. Evana,

    this question is very revealing for us who do not have an intellectual disability.

    Certainly I believed many of those things when I was still in the academic system.

    Since then I have seen how people with ID shine in practical and adaptive lives and their emotional maturity.

    And learning differently most certainly is learning.

    There are lots of objects I cannot reliably count to 10.

    And Disney is great to sing along to.

    And opportunities and threats like every other person.


    1. Disney is the best! They know how to write a catchy song!

    2. Probably my catchiest is "Prince Ali" from "Aladdin".


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