Intellectual Disability in Children: Causes, Indications and Diagnosis

Intellectual disability (or ID) is an umbrella term used to describe a condition where the individual is experiencing certain limitations in cognitive functioning and skills. These limitations can include learning, communication, and social skills and can cause issues with a child’s education and development.

Intellectual Disability in Children

While the effects of ID on your child’s education can be severe, early intervention can make a big difference in your child’s learning experience and go a long way toward correcting any corresponding behavioral issues. The signs and symptoms of ID in kids can vary but typically include problems in both intellectual and adaptive functioning.

Genetic conditions, complications during pregnancy, and problems during birth can all cause a child to be born with an intellectual disability. More than 6 million people in the United States suffer from an intellectual disability.

Causes of Intellectual Disability

In most cases, the exact cause of a child’s intellectual disability is unknown. ID can be caused by an injury, disease, or other problem in the brain. In some cases, the cause of intellectual disability can occur before birth, such as in the case of Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, birth defects, and infections. In older children, causes of ID can include severe head injury, infection, or even stroke.

Intellectual disability is not contagious, is not a type of mental illness, and has no cure.

Indications and Diagnosis of Intellectual Disability

Intellectual disability, previously known as mental retardation, can occur anytime throughout childhood or even before birth. The replacement of this terminology occurred in 2010 after the passage of Rosa’s Law.

According to the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, a child must meet three criteria in order to receive a diagnosis of Intellectual Disability:

  • An IQ below 75
  • Significant limitations in two or more adaptive areas (life skills such as communication or self-care)
  • The condition must manifest before the age of 18

If you suspect your child is experiencing any type of educational delay, including intellectual disability, it is important to get them evaluated your pediatrician or other specialist for a professional diagnosis. Getting a formal diagnosis can help open up access to a variety of resources, therapies, school support, and other interventions.

Living with Intellectual Disability

Living with intellectual disability can affect your child’s day-to-day life and be hard on the entire family.

Early intervention, parental education and support, behavioral and cognitive therapies, and educational resources can all help families dealing with an intellectual disability. The goal of these resources is to help children learn as effectively as possible and live as independently as possible.

Most individuals with intellectual disabilities can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.

If you think your child may be living with intellectual disability, give us a call today to schedule an appointment with one of our friendly board-certified pediatricians.