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Developmental disability is a broad term that includes intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorders and other conditions of disability quite related to intellectual disability.

People with intellectual disabilities have limitations not only on an intellectual level but also when it comes to show adaptive behaviors, social and practical skills. This means that interacting with an unfamiliar environment is more complicated for them.

The environmental variety in which each person develops will determine both the adaptation or adjustment and the support that he or she will need in each case, throughout his or her life.

Intellectual disability is characterized by deficits in the intellectual functioning of the person, such as: Difficulties in reasoning, problem solving, planning, judgment, abstract thinking, decision-making, academic learning, and learning from experience.

This also leads to difficulties in attaining social and cultural standards, problems of personal autonomy and social responsibility. It means that people with intellectual disabilities need support or assistance in the performance of many of their daily activities in environments such as home, school, work and community, where they often present problems of communication or social participation.

Conceptual and academic difficulties: It’s difficult for them to perform tasks that involve memory, attention, language, reading, writing, mathematical reasoning, acquisition of practical knowledge, ability to solve new problems, and in the processing of information, etc. Their attentional capacity is limited.

Social difficulties: Little awareness of their thoughts, feelings and experiences with others. They lack awareness of empathy, interpersonal communication skills, ability to socialize and make friends, etc.

Practical difficulties: This is related to the degree of learning and how the person incorporates autonomous management in different situations of life, such as personal care, real responsibility for work, money and management, organization of tasks related to adequate behavior control.

The typical reasoning of people with intellectual disabilities can be identified with characteristics of the most primary periods of thought.

People with intellectual disabilities have between 3-4 times more mental, neurological, medical and physical disorders than the general population. The most common are mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances.

It’s worth mentioning that behavior alteration is another problem generally associated with intellectual disability and it may be a consequence of several factors such as the discomfort produced by the difficulty to communicate or express their personal desires and needs, the emotional problems related to exclusion and social discrimination or, simply, as a way of expressing or communicating what they can’t transmit in another way.

This difficulty in expressing oneself may be due to a limited and basic vocabulary, to language alterations, to a late onset of speech or early absence of language; hyperactivity and attention deficit, extreme shyness or physical manifestations such as arms fluttering or biting of hands.

People with mild intellectual disability obtain Intellectual Coefficient scores between 40 and 50 (let’s keep in mind that the average score of the general population is between 90 and 110).

People with mild intellectual disability have the conceptual domain affected, at the level of abstract thinking, cognitive flexibility, efficient exercise of memory and functional use of academic skills such as understanding texts or understanding the genuine value of money. In terms of social dominance and compared to their peers, they seem immature and that increases the risk of being manipulated.

Finally, regarding the practical domain, they need some support to complete complex tasks of daily life, and it’s necessary that others take some responsibilities for them, so it’s common that they have tutors to sign an informed consent.

Despite current knowledge of medical advances and efforts to encourage detection as early as possible, reality is that, in many cases, the specific causes of intellectual disability are still unknown.

 Thank you for understanding!


Book references:

Verdugo M.Á., Guillén, V.M. y Vicente, E. (2014). “Discapacidad intelectual. En L. Expeleta y J. Toro (Eds.) Psicopatología del desarrollo” (pp.169-190). Madrid, España: Pirámide

Guía para padres de FEAPS: “No estás solo”. 3ª edición.