Intellectual disability is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulty in reasoning and understanding. Learn more in this article

Intellectual Disability

Intellectual disability is recognized with general problems in intellectual skills. Such general problems are planning and analyzing among others. Intelligence is determined by standard Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests. The individual with an intellectual disability has generally less than 75 IQ level.


The prevalence of intellectual disability is higher in males, both in adult populations and in children and adolescents. The highest prevalence occurs in developing countries where rates are nearly twice as high.

Intellectual Disability

Main Symptoms

Symptoms are characterized by important limitations in both brain functioning and adaptive behavior, expressed in impaired practical, social, and conceptual skills. Intellectual disability has a significant impact on at least two of the following skill areas:

  • Learning and self-management in life situations such as personal care, professional responsibilities, money control, recreation, control of one’s behavior and organization in school and professional tasks.
  • Communication
  • Language skills, reading, writing, math, reasoning, knowledge, memory
  • Social/interpersonal skills


Intellectual disability is not a disease but a condition. People with an intellectual disability should receive medical follow-up and encouragement through therapeutic work with occupational therapists, psychologists, speech therapists, and special education services.

Outcomes from having an intellectual disability can be improved through systematic developmental stimulation, adjustments in personal, academic, and professional supports, as well as opportunities for social inclusion.

Intellectual Disability


The chance of a child having an intellectual disability depends on several factors related to genetics, prenatal care, maternal health during pregnancy, healthy family environment during childhood and adolescence, among others factors. As you can see, there are many contributing circumstances.

Care can be taken to avoid, or minimize, the rate of intellectual disabilities:

  • Seek genetic counseling before becoming pregnant when there are cases of intellectual disability in the family or advanced maternal age (over 35 years).
  • Provide adequate prenatal care to monitor possible infections or prenatal illnesses that can be treated before damage to the unborn child occurs.
  • Maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy and avoid alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
  • Provide the baby with adequate nutrition and a healthy, stimulating family environment and try to prevent childhood accidents/injuries.
  • Seek medical attention if you notice any problems with your child’s development and/or growth.


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External Resources

Support program: Sibling Support Project

Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council

Maryland Early Intervention and Special Education Services

Administration for Community Living

Pathfinders for Autism

Disability Scoop

Maryland Preschool Special Education

Maryland Department of Education Division of Early Childhood