Intellectual disability is a reduced capacity to think and to learn new skills. Intellectual disability can occur when a child:
- has abnormal chromosomes
- is born prematurely
- is severely malnourished
- has a brain injury or structural problems with the brain.
It can also be caused by infection or drug and alcohol abuse by a child’s mother during pregnancy.
However, for many children, specially those with mild intellectual disability, no cause is found.
In the US, intellectual disability is referred to as mental retardation and in the UK as learning disability – you may see these terms in some publications or websites.
The degree of intellectual disability varies greatly from child to child. In general, the milder the disability, the later it is detected. Some children will be able to attend regular school with assistance, others may benefit from special education. This is a decision parents can make depending on their child's condition and the resources available to them.
Children with an intellectual disability experience the full range of emotions and continue to learn, although at a much slower rate than normal. Like all children, they benefit from community participation and activities that make them feel good about themselves. Many adults with a mild intellectual disability manage to live independent lives.
The following professionals can help: general practitioner, child health nurse, paediatrician, genetic counsellor, educational advisor, psychologist, social worker, speech pathologist, occupational therapist.