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S32 Step By Step Guide

What is intellectual disability?

Intellectual disability is one of the developmental disabilities. It primarily affects the way people learn and understand. People with intellectual disability can learn and can develop new skills and change behaviour but will usually need assistance to do this.

Mental handicap or mental retardation are terms that have been used in the past. These terms are no longer in common use. Intellectual disability is the most commonly used term.

Intellectual disability is a life-long disability. It cannot be cured but the negative effects of intellectual disability can be reduced by appropriate support and guidance ,opportunities to learn effectively and services matched to the person's needs. Many people with intellectual disability who get in trouble with the law have not had these opportunities.

Clinical definition

Intellectual disability is a disability that is present from birth or occurs in the developmental period, ie before 18 years of age. It is characterised by significant sub-average intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with related limitations in two or more areas of adaptive functioning including:

  • communication
  • self-care
  • home living
  • social skills
  • self-direction
  • use of community resources
  • leisure
  • work
  • functional academic skills
  • health and safety

An IQ assessed at around 70 or below indicates intellectual disability.

An IQ score between 71 and 75 may suggest intellectual disability if there are also significant deficits in adaptive behaviour because a error margin of 5 points is allowed for in IQ testing.

'Mental Retardation' in the American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, Text Revision 2000 (DSM-IV-TRDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision 2000)

Clients with intellectual disabilityDiagnosis and Classification

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