Intellectual Disabilities

Inclusion: Chapter 5

Students with Intellectual Disabilities


People with intellectual disabilities (ID) are more evident today then they have been in our communities and in our schools.

We must be careful not to form and/or hold to stereotyped images, because all people with intellectual disabilities have different characteristics, abilities, and needs.

Studies show that including students with intellectual disabilities in the general education classroom has several benefits:

  • More attentive
  • Improve social and communication skills
  • More socially accepted

Pause & Reflect (p. 84)

  • How common is inclusion of students with intellectual disabilities in the schools with which you are familiar?
  • What have been some of the benefits of their inclusion for these students?
  • Have students without disabilities benefited?
  • What is your personal perspective on this issue?

Who are Students with Intellectual Disabilities?


AAIDD’s Definition:

“[An ID is characterized by a] significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills. This disability originates before age 18” (p. 84)

IDEA 2004 Definition:

“[ID] means significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child’s education performance” (p. 84)

Both definitions agree that in order for a person to be labeled as intellectually disabled they must…

  • Have a significantly low IQ (70-75 points)
  • Have difficulty completing activities of daily living
  • Demonstrate limitations before they reach maturity
  • Have inadequate educational performance (IDEA)

AAIDD subcategories (eliminated, but still used by some state and local education agencies and APA):

  • Mild (50-70)
  • Moderate (35-50)
  • Severe (20-35)
  • Profound (below 20-25)

Rosa’s Law (October 5, 2010)

  • Eliminated terms such as mental retardation and mentally retarded
  • Replaced with the term intellectual disability

Identification of Students with Intellectual Disabilities

Identification in the Early Years:

Children likely to develop intellectual disabilities can be identified in their early years

  • Distinctive features (Down syndrome)
  • Physical disabilities that suggest developmental delay (cerebral palsy)

Parents and/or pediatricians are typically the first to identify developmental delays:

  • Language development
  • Motor skills

Clinicians implement medical and developmental assessments to determine the significance of a delay and in which area or areas it is occurring

  • Substantial delay in one area
  • Less serious delay in two or more areas

Intellectual disabilities in young children are caused by

  • Genetic inheritance
  • Chromosomal anomalies
  • Various prenatal causes

Pause & Reflect (p. 86)

Providing early intervention to infants and toddlers with developmental delays can have an important effect on later development.

  • Why do you think it is important to provide services as early in life as possible?
  • What kinds of services or specific intervention might reduce the impact of a disability?
  • What kinds might be helpful to families?

Identification of Students with Intellectual Disabilities Cont..

Identification in the School Years:

Most children are not identified as having intellectual disabilities until they enter their school years

  • Show academic challenges (learn more slowly)
  • Show behavior challenges
  • Socially immature
  • Considered to have mild intellectual disabilities

The RTI model is used to remediate the student in the general education classroom

  • If the student does not improve, he/she is referred for evaluation

A score below 70-75 points on a standardized IQ test and a deficit in adaptive behavior identify the student as having an intellectual disability

  • Any score above 70-75 points places the student in another disability category (Learning Disabilities)
  • Parents must formally endorse the decision


The prevalence of intellectual disabilities is between 1% and 3%

Less than 1% of students between 6 and 21 years of age are labeled as intellectually disabled

  • The multiple disabilities and developmental delays categories may increase this percentage to a little over 1%

Service Delivery

Most students with intellectual disabilities receive educational services in special classrooms part-time or full-time.

  • 51% of students with intellectual disabilities are outside the general education classroom more than 60% of the school day
  • 13% are outside the general education classroom for less than 21% of the school day

6.5% of these students receive services in separate facilities (severe or multiple disabilities)

  • Public or private special schools
  • Residential facilities
  • Homes
  • Hospitals

Major Characteristics of Students with Intellectual Disabilities

Academic Characteristics

Students identified with mild intellectual disabilities lag behind grade-level peers in developing academic skills and are likely to be delayed in

  • Learning to read
  • Learning basic math skills
  • Learning other academic skills that are based these building blocks

Over time many of these students will develop basic literacy and math skills equivalent to about the 4th grade

The greatest challenge will be the use of reasoning skills in areas such as

  • Reading comprehension
  • Problem solving
  • Planning ahead

Students with moderate intellectual disabilities may be able to achieve up to about the first or second-grade level and learn practical skills such as

  • Sight words
  • How to tell time
  • Use money
  • Verbal communication
  • Self-help
  • Domestic and community skills

Most adults with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities will be able to work in community jobs

Students with severe-to-profound intellectual disabilities typically do not possess many academic skills, but they may be able to recognize

  • Some words
  • Common signs
  • Understand that money has value, but not comprehend specific bills or coins

Recent advances in assistive technology (AT) have greatly advanced these students ability to communicate and participate in various activities. (AT) devices and support services assist with

  • Communication
  • Daily living skills
  • Mobility

Pause & Reflect (p.90)

Reflect on the kinds of academic skills necessary for day-to-day living.

  • What do you think would be important for individuals with mild-moderate intellectual disabilites to learn?

Cognitive Characteristics

Language Skills:

Individuals with intellectual disabilities typically have restricted language abilities. Their language limitations may be indicated by problems in

  • Articulation
  • Grammar
  • Vocabulary
  • General expressive ability

Their difficulties may range from having trouble understanding verbal directions to being able to engage in a two-part conversation

Observational and Incidental Learning:

  • Observational Learning- learning through watching and imitating another person who is serving as a model.
  • Incidental Learning- learning something that was not taught directly but that might be learned if attended to.

Many students with intellectual disabilities do not profit from these forms of learning, neither do students who do not have intellectual disabilities.

Skill Synthesis:

Most individuals who do not have intellectual disabilities learn seperate skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, and then pull these skills together in an organized useful way that they can carry over in their daily lives.

However for students with intellectual disabilities the ability to synthesize information and skills is limited and often they fail to see the relationship between one bit of information to the other.


Generalization is considered one of the most significant learning weaknesses for students with intellectual disabilities. These students have trouble taking information that was learned in one situation and carrying it over to another situation. One of the benefits of inclusion is it gives students more opportunities to practice generalizing new skills.

Social and Behavioral Characteristics

Social Interactions:

Students with mild or moderate intellectual disabilities may have difficulty interacting socially. These students have difficulties with

  • Reading social cues
  • Interacting in a socially appropraite manner
  • Social-communicative expectations like when to listen and when to respond in conversation

These difficulties can lead to

  • A poor self-concept
  • A lower social status
  • Withdrawal in socail situations

Behavioral Challenges:

Students with intellectual disabilities can sometimes have challenging behaviors. This may include

  • Stereotyped bahaviors- (repetitive behaviors, e.g., hand flapping, or stereotypies)
  • Self-injurious behaviors (SIBs)- such as head banging
  • Agressive behaviors- hitting other people
  • Noncompliance

Assessments such as the (FBA) Functional Behavioral Assessment are typically given to determine why this behavior occurs and what are the motivations behind the behavior. (FBA)'s lead to the development of a (BIP) Behavior Intervention Plan

Keys to Successful Inclusion: Tips from Effective Teachers

Understand individual student's strengths and limitations:

  • Learn student as a person
  • Know what they are good at
  • Know their challenges
  • Develop a relationship with them

Work closely with your colleagues:

  • Collaborating and planning are vital to successful inclusion
  • Make time for meeting and planning
  • Teamwork

Have confidence in yourself as a teacher:

  • Give yourself time to get where you want to be
  • Learn to be patient
  • Trust yourself

Get students without disabilities involved:

  • Students can provide academic and social support
  • Serve as good role models
  • Helps students to learn everyone is different
  • Helps develop a greater understanding of diverse abilities

Learn to enjoy and celebrate small gains:

  • It can be hard, emotionally draining, and stressful. But at the end of the day every gain counts, and sometimes the students with [ID] are the very ones who show you that what you're doing is worth it!

By: Brooke Foster & Brooke Maloy