What is an Intellectual Disability? | MyCareSpace

What is an Intellectual Disability?

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Intellectual Disability

An intellectual disability affects how a person thinks, learns and processes information.

An intellectual disability can result in difficulties in a range of areas related to understanding, communicating, socialising and emotions. Intellectual disability is identified as mild, moderate or severe. This is reflected in someone’s level of independence and reliance on others.

What causes an Intellectual Disability?

There are many different causes of intellectual disability. 

A person may be born with an intellectual disability, or it can develop before the age of 18.

An intellectual disability may be caused by a genetic disorder such as:

  • Down Syndrome
  • Fragile X Syndrome
  • Williams Syndrome
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome

An intellectual disability may develop following a childhood illness such as:

  • Meningitis
  • Whooping cough or measles

Alternatively, an intellectual disability may be the result of trauma experienced at birth that may have involved a lack of oxygen to the brain. This can occur when a child is born with or develops cerebral palsy.

Other factors that may contribute to an intellectual disability include exposure to toxins, brain malformation, maternal disease, infection or environmental influences, such as exposure to alcohol or drugs in utero.

What are the Early Signs of Intellectual Disability?

Usually, an intellectual disability in a child is detected when they are delayed in achieving their developmental milestones. 

What are developmental milestones? 

These are a range of age-specific skills and behaviours demonstrated by a child as they grow. Children reach milestones in how they play, learn, speak, act, and move.

A child with an intellectual disability may demonstrate difficulties with the following milestones:

  • Sitting up, crawling and walking
  • Speaking
  • Memory
  • Interacting with others
  • Problem solving
  • Insight and understanding consequences

How does Intellectual Disability impact adolescents and adults?

As you grow up, you typically develop adaptive functioning skills or adaptive behaviours. There are a set of skills that are required for people to manage the demands of everyday living and interact with others.

Growing up with an intellectual disability will impact how you develop adaptive functioning skills in line with your peers.

Adaptive functioning skills can be classified into three areas: conceptual, social and practical:

  • Conceptual – language, reading, writing, mathematics, knowledge, memory, insight
  • Social – empathy, communication skills, social judgement, following rules, understanding norms and the ability to develop and maintain friendships
  • Practical – independence in areas such as maintaining personal care, employment responsibilities, financial management, self-organisation across school, work and personal life

Your intellectual functioning is also impacted by an intellectual disability. This relates to intelligence and executive functioning skills.

This may impact your ability to learn new skills related to caring for yourself and your performance at school and work.

Early Intervention for Children with Intellectual Disabilities

Research suggests that early intervention is playing an increasingly prominent role in benefitting children with intellectual disabilities.

It is anticipated that early intervention will enhance the development of young children exhibiting intellectual delays.

Who provides early intervention for children with intellectual disabilities?

Early intervention for intellectual disabilities is provided by qualified allied health professionals, such as:

  • Occupational Therapist
  • Speech Pathologist
  • Psychologist
  • Social Worker

Under the NDIS, there are other early childhood support professionals that can be explored, such as:

  • Developmental Educator
  • Early Childhood Teacher or Educator
  • Early Childhood Therapy Assistant
  • Early Childhood Counsellor
  • Keyworker

Learn more about keyworker services here: Keyworker in the NDIS

More information about early childhood support funded by the NDIS is availabile an upcoming resource. Stay tuned!

Can children, teens and adults with an intellectual disability access therapy?

Certainly! Capacity building intervention provided by an allied health therapist can be beneficial across the lifespan.

A qualified therapist can assist you to develop daily living skills and implement strategies to make meaningful tasks easier for you to complete. 

The therapist will always start their involvement by completing an assessment to ensure that the intervention provided is tailored to your specific needs.

The assessment can span from one to several appointments and typically includes a report which details assessment findings and recommendations.

How do I find an early intervention provider?

The Connections Team at MyCareSpace can help you to navigate the NDIS and find an early intervention provider with capacity.

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How do I find a therapist for a child, teenager or adult with an intellectual disability?

At MyCareSpace, we are connected with many therapy providers. More importantly, we monitor their capacity real-time could be the perfect match for you. Let us help you navigate the NDIS and find the therapist you need.

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Our Connections Team at MyCareSpace are linked in with a range of providers offering telehealth services with availability. Let our team help you navigate the NDIS and find the right service for you.
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