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Intellectual and Learning Disabilities in Children, Students

Detailed info on learning disabilities in children and students with intellectual disabilities. Learn about diagnosing intellectual disabilities in children.

Intellectual disabilities in children cause learning difficulties, social problems, motor skill impairment, and adversely affect ability to perform successfully in daily life. This negatively impacts a child's ability to learn in a typical educational setting. Maybe your child seems to have some learning problems in school and you're worried? Educate yourself about intellectual disabilities, so you understand more about it. That way, if a mental health professional does diagnose your child with a specific learning disorder, you can help support your child so he or she gets the necessary care. (Learn about the types of intellectual disability.)

Learning Disabilities in Children

Researchers and experts understand more about learning disabilities in children than ever before, but there's still much more to uncover about these disorders. Unless your child has an obvious disability from birth, you may not suspect a problem until he or she starts school. If you and the teacher notice that your child isn't learning at the rate expected, you might consider having your child evaluated to see what's causing the problems (Read: Intellectual Disability: Causes and Characteristics). With proper help and support, your child can learn and succeed in an educational setting that's just right for his individual needs.

Signs of Intellectual Disabilities in Children

A doctor or mental health professional looks for certain signs of intellectual disabilities in children when assessing a patient. You can help too by keeping a log of clues that you notice. Read through this list of possible signs, but keep in mind that your child most likely won't display all of these. However, if you see a number of these problems in your child, you should consider the possibility that he or she has an intellectual impairment.

Possible signs of learning disabilities in children:

  • Difficulty understanding and following simple instructions
  • Trouble with remembering what someone just said
  • Fails to comprehend what he reads
  • Delayed speech development
  • Struggles to express ideas in writing
  • Transposes math symbols and numbers
  • Difficulty understanding age-appropriate jokes and sarcasm
  • Very messy handwriting
  • Significant difficulty in spelling
  • Difficulty grasping social conventions
  • Lacks coordination in walking and sports
  • Difficulty cutting out shapes in paper or holding a pencil
  • Frequently loses or misplaces personal items
  • Trouble comprehending conceptual time (i.e. yesterday, today, tomorrow)

Students with intellectual disabilities may have trouble with only a couple of these listed items, or they may show problems with several of them. If you see one or more of these signs in your child, you may want to investigate further by having a professional assess your child for an intellectual disability. (More info on differences between mild, moderate, severe intellectual disability.)

Diagnosing Learning Disabilities in Children

Make an appointment with a medical or mental health professional that has experience in diagnosing learning disabilities in children. He or she will assess your child by administering an IQ test as well as ask you (and possibly your child, if old enough) detailed questions about the child's behavior. He or she may also ask your permission to interview the child's teachers and other care providers to lend broader insight into any possible impairment.

The doctor will take your child's academic performance relative to his age into account as well as the child's social and other interpersonal skills into account. He or she will assess the level of intervention and support your child needs to succeed in school and later on in life.

Levels of Support for Children With Intellectual Disabilities

There are several levels of support for children with intellectual disabilities. The mental health professional will assess the severity of disability based on the level of support the child needs to succeed and function in daily life:

Intermittent support – people with mild intellectual disability typically do not need regular, scheduled assistance. They do need intermittent support for certain situations and when they become exposed to new environments and challenges.

Limited support – people with moderate intellectual disability need assistance and training so they can increase their functioning in social situations and in self-care. Some people in this category may need assistance to cope with everyday situations, though.

Extensive support – people who need extensive support typically have severe intellectual disability. They have very limited communication ability and can only perform some of the necessary daily self-care duties. They usually need daily support and assistance.

Pervasive support – people with profound intellectual disability need this level of support, which entails 24-hour supervision and assistance. Those with profound intellectual disability require constant supervision to ensure their health and safety.

Most children with intellectual disabilities will only need intermittent support because 85 percent of people diagnosed with a cognitive impairment fall into the mild category. But, it's up to your child's doctor to decide the level of intervention and support that will work to the best benefit of your child. Once your child receives a diagnosis, learn all you can about your child's specific impairment and disability, so you can help pave the way to success and happiness for him or her.

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next: What is an Intellectual Disability?
~ all intellectual disability articles
~ all neurodevelopmental disorders articles

Last Updated: 08 August 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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