Intellectual Disabilities

Teaching Strategies

Teaching Strategies for Students with Mild, Moderate and Severe Intellectual Disabilities

Experts divide the types of cognitive impairment into four categories:

1.) Mild intellectual ability

2.) Moderate intellectual ability

3.) Severe intellectual ability

4.) Profound intellectual ability

Category details are as follows:

Mild Intellectual Disability

IQ 50 to 70

Slower than typical in all developmental areas

No universal physical characteristics

Able to learn practical life skills

Attains reading and math skills up to grade levels 3 to 6

Able to blend in socially

Functions in daily life

Moderate Intellectual Disability

IQ 35 to 49

Noticeable developmental delays (i.e., speech, motor skills)

May have physical signs of impairment (i.e., thick tongue)

Can communicate in basic simple ways

Able to learn basic and safety skills

Can complete self-care activities

Can travel alone to nearby familiar places

Severe Intellectual Disability

IQ 20 to 34

Considerable delays in development

Understands speech, but little ability to communicate

Able to learn daily routines

May learn very simple self-care

Needs direct supervision in social situations (Gluck, S., n.d.)

Key Concepts to Teaching Students with Moderate to Severe Intellectual Disabilities

  • Students with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities can learn and acquire many skills
  • Progress has been made toward the inclusion of students with severe disabilities in general education, but considerable work remains
  • Inclusive education ensures access to the core curriculum and active participation in the general education lesson with the necessary supports and services
  • Skilled teachers with high expectations are needed to help maximize learning potentials
  • Education should support students' learning and ability to learn
  • Least Restrictive Environment P.L. (Public Law) 94-142, The Education for ALL Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (Downing, 2010).

Successful Strategies for Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities

Research continues to confirm that we can teach students with learning disabilities to "learn how to learn."

Some Intervention practices that produce large outcomes are:

1.) Direct instruction

2.) Learning strategy instruction; and

3.) Using a sequential, simultaneous structured multi-sensory approach

Teachers who apply those kinds of intervention:

1.) Break learning into small steps;

2.) Administer probes;

3.) Supply regular, quality feedback;

4.) Use diagrams, graphics and pictures to augment what they say in words

5.) Provide ample independent, well-designed intensive practice;

6.) Model instructional practices they want students to follow;

7.) Provide prompts of strategies to use and;

8.) Engage students in process type questions like "How is the strategy working? Where

else might you apply it?"(

9.) Use concrete items and examples to explain new concepts and provide practice in

existing skill areas.

10.) Role Model desired behaviors and clearly identify what behaviors you expect in the


11.) Use appropriate communication methods, such as Makaton signing for preverbal

students or those with beginning language.

12.) Do not overwhelm a student with multiple or complex instructions

13.) Be explicit about what it is you want a student to do

14.) Put skills in context so there is a reason for learning tasks

15.) Involve families and significant others in learning activities (Vize, 2015).

Technology Applications

  • Some students with an intellectual disability may be using technology based tools
  • Computer games and tasks are often written so they are instantly rewarding and motivating
  • This is useful in freeing up teaching time while still providing ample chance for students to practice their skills
  • Some students enjoy listening to taped stories either through headsets at a listening post or via an iPod or similar tool
  • Other students may enjoy tasks such as writing up a class activity into a book using a program such as PowerPoint (Vize, 2015).

Helping Students with Moderate and Severe Disabilities Access Grade-Level Text

  • Adaptations include summarizing novels in brief passages, pairing key words with picture symbols, and adding a repeated story line that emphasized the main idea of the story
  • Shorten the text
  • Augment the text
  • Rewrite the text as summary
  • Use predictable structure
  • Provide options for students to comprehension (e.g., comprehension in questions)
  • Graphic organizer--A graphic organizer can help students organize information about each character (Hudson, Browden, & Wakeman, 2013)


Downing, J. (2010). Teaching students with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities in

general education in Academic instruction for students with moderate and severe

intellectual disabilities in inclusive classrooms. Chp. 1. Retrieved from http://www.

Gluck, S. (n.d.). Mild, moderate, severe intellectual disabilities. Retrieved from


Hudson, M.E., Browder, D. & Wakeman, S. (2013). Helping students with a moderate and

severe intellectual disability access grade-level text. Teaching Exceptional Children,

45 (3), 14-23. Retrieved from


Learning disabilities association of America (n.d.). Successful strategies for teaching

students with learning disabilities. Retrieved from


Vize, A. (2015). Intellectual disabilities in the classroom. Retrieved from http://www.