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What is Intellectual Disability?


Intellectual Disability describes "significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child's educational performance" (Gargiulo & Bouck, 2018, p. 591).

  • Difficulty understanding social rules

  • Difficulty understanding the consequences of their actions

  • Difficulty with communication due to speech or language impairments

  • Artistic

  • Creative

  • Resilient

  • Certain conditions that cause Intellectual Disability are correlated with friendliness and positive outlook:

    • Down's Syndrome

    •  Williams Syndrome

    •  Willi-Prader Syndrome 

  • Difficulty understanding abstract ideas

  • Impaired reasoning and problem-solving abilities

  • Difficulty learning from experience

  • Difficulty understanding cause and effect

  • Slow processing speed

  • Delayed or impaired physical development 

  • Deficits in fine and gross motor skills

  • Poor prioperception


  • May have socially inappropriate facial expressions or verbalizations in response to stimuli

  • Disability may affect physical characteristics if caused by a congenital syndrome

  • Disability may be causes by a disorder that impairs motor function, resulting in difficulty controlling facial muscles

  • IQ score below 70

  • Significant deficits in functional and adaptive skills

  • High incidence of co-morbid disabilities

Levels of Severity
  • People with Intellectual Disability (ID), can have mild, moderate, severe, or profound ID.

  • The greatest percentage of people with ID are diagnosed with a mild form. Mild ID presents in slower cognitive functioning, but they are able to learn strategies to help them adapt to daily life with minimal supports.

  • People with Moderate ID can learn functional strategies, but need moderate support.

  • People with severe ID have significant developmental delays and difficulty communicating. Due to their level of disability, people with sever ID need supervision and home care.  

  • People with profound ID have severe congenital syndromes that impair communication, physical and cognitive functioning. These individuals must live in a setting that provides constant supervision and help with basic self-care.



  • It is estimated that 6% of K-12 students who qualify for services have an Intellectual Disability (ID).

  • 50% of students with ID spend 40% or less of their school day in a mainstream classroom.

  • Students with ID learn best when information is broken down into small segments.

  • Reteaching items frequently, and using varied educational strategies, can help those with ID retain information.


Student Questions
  • Grades K-4:

    • Will I make friends?

    • What are the rules in class?

    • Will people be nice to me?

    • Will someone help me find the bathroom?

  • Grades 5-8:

    • Will I be in a class with my friends?

    • Can you help me relearn this?

    • Why do I have to go to a pull-out class?

  • Grades 9-12:

    • Can I retake this test?

    •  Will I be able to join the class on a field trip?

    • Who can I talk to if I’m feeling anxious?

Parent Questions
  • Who do I talk to about getting an Individualized Education Plan for my child?
  • Are there transitional supports for after high school?
  • How do I get my child screened for ID?
  • What therapies are available in school for my child?
  • Are there work programs in the community for my child when they are done with high school?
  • Who do I go to if i have concerns about my child's interactions with their peers?
Teacher Questions
  • Where do I get additional training for working with students with ID?
  • What assistive technology do I have available to help me differentiate instruction for students with ID?
  • What are the most common co-morbid issues for students with ID?
  • What administrative and additional support do I have to help me support my students with ID?
  • What transitional resources can I give to parents for their child with ID?
  • How can I model tolerance and inclusion in my classroom?
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