Types of Intellectual Disabilities: List and Examples
It's difficult to face the possibility that your child suffers from one of the many types of intellectual disability. No parent wants to see his or her child suffer. You may worry about what having an intellectual disability means for your child's future or if your child will succeed in school. Many parents worry that others will negatively label their children as slow or retarded.
It's important that you remember that most children with one of the types of learning disabilities are just as intelligent as other kids. It's just that they need to have teachers that consider their unique learning styles. By learning all you can about intellectual disabilities and your child's particular challenges, you can help him or her achieve success in school and beyond.
Types of Intellectual Disability
The types of intellectual disability are frequently grouped by school-area skill sets. For school-aged children, the most conspicuous types of cognitive impairments involve reading, writing, or mathematics. If your child isn't yet in school, you may notice delays in speech development or development of gross and fine motor skills (i.e. crawling, walking, running, using eating utensils). Don't forget that these learning disabilities look different from one child to another. (Intellectual Disability: Causes and Characteristics)
Intellectual disability in reading
Two types of intellectual disability occur in reading. One type manifests when your child has difficulty understanding relationships between letters, sounds, and words. The other shows up in problems with reading comprehension where your child has issues grasping the meaning of words, sentences, and paragraphs. Signs of intellectual disability in reading:
- problems in letter and word recognition
- problems understanding words and ideas
- slow reading speed and low fluency
- poor vocabulary skills
Intellectual disability in math
The types of intellectual disability in math vary widely depending on your child. For instance, your child's ability to succeed in math is affected by any co-occurring language disability, visual impairment, or problems with memory, organization, and sequencing. If your child struggles with memorizing and organizing numbers and math facts, he or she may have an intellectual disability in math. He or she may have great difficulty telling time and with abstract thought.
Intellectual disability in writing
This type of intellectual disability can involve either the physical activity of writing, the mental activity of comprehending and putting together information, or both. Children with this intellectual disability have problems forming letters, words, and written expression. Signs of an intellectual disability in writing include:
- messy writing
- problems copying letters and words with accuracy
- problems with spelling
- issues with coherence and organization when writing
Intellectual disability with motor skills
Children with an intellectual disability that affects motor skills have problems with both gross and fine motor skills. They may seem uncoordinated for their age and have significant problems with movements that require hand to eye coordination.
Intellectual disability with language
This type of intellectual disability involves the ability to speak and to understand spoken words. Signs of this type of impairment include:
- problems retelling a story
- problems in speech fluency
- issues with understanding word meanings
- issues carrying out directions
- problems understanding parts of speech
Intellectual disabilities with auditory and visual processing
Some children have auditory or visual processing problems, causing learning to suffer. This intellectual disability manifests by causing the person to have difficulty in processing the things they hear and see. They may lack the ability to tell the difference between certain sounds. Others can't distinguish the difference between certain shapes and images. Depending on the severity of impairment, this can profoundly affect learning.
Children with mild impairment may simply have slight challenges in one or two areas. Those with severe to profound impairment in many or all areas may need constant supervision and highly specialized educational services.
Other disorders that may occur along with intellectual disabilities include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism. Both of these disorders make can make learning and day-to-day life difficult, especially if compounded with intellectual disabilities.
It's important to understand that these learning disabilities occur at various levels and your child's needs depend on the severity of impairment.
Last Updated: 08 August 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD