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Common Signs of Intellectual Disabilities in Children

Common Signs of Intellectual Disabilities in Children

Parents who observe certain behaviors or seeming developmental delays in their child may wonder if their son or daughter has an intellectual disability. While only a doctor or specialist can make a diagnosis, we outline below some of the most common symptoms and signs of intellectual disabilities in kids to offer some insights into what to look for.

It’s important to note that there are different types of intellectual disability (ID), that they range from mild to severe, and that signs may manifest at birth or shortly after, in the toddler years, or even into the school-age years. Exactly how an ID affects any given child varies on an individual basis. While IDs aren’t generally curable or treatable, they can be managed. Affected children certainly develop their own personalities, learn, grow, and lead their own lives. The earlier in life that intervention begins, the more successful it usually is.

Defining Characteristics of IDs

IDs affect two areas of a child’s abilities:

  • Below-average intellect (generally defined as an IQ between about 50 to 75) creates significant problems with learning, reasoning, problem-solving, and/or other aspects of intellectual functioning.
  • Impaired adaptive behaviors refer to limitations with skills necessary for daily life, such as communication, socialization, personal care, developing routines, maintaining personal safety, and others.

Diagnosing Intellectual Disabilities

To diagnose an intellectual disability, an IQ test is given, but not until a child is at least 4 to 6 years old. The doctor or specialist also compares the child’s adaptive abilities to those of other children the same age. IDs manifest and are diagnosed in childhood.

Additionally, other diagnostic tools may be employed. For example, blood and/or urine tests may be used to look for genetic or metabolic disorders, imaging tests may be used to look for structural abnormalities in the brain, and an EEG may be used to find evidence of seizure activity.

Some Signs of Intellectual Disabilities

Here are some of the typical signs of intellectual disabilities in children. Keep in mind that they pertain specifically to age-appropriate behaviors and abilities; obviously, all kids grow into greater abilities in these areas over time.

  • Significant delay in reaching developmental milestones such as rolling over, sitting up, crawling, and walking
  • Learning to talk late and/or having trouble speaking
  • Slow to learn basic skills like becoming potty trained, independent feeding, or getting dressed
  • Impaired memory
  • Difficulty understanding concepts like time and money
  • Difficulty with abstract thought
  • Trouble with academic learning (reading, writing, math, etc.)
  • Struggling with logic and/or basic problem-solving
  • Impaired capabilities for planning, prioritizing, strategizing, etc.
  • Trouble grasping social norms or rules and/or picking up on social cues
  • Not foreseeing predictable consequences of actions; judgment deficits
  • Trouble learning from experiences
  • Behavioral problems like poor impulse control, excessive frustration, severe tantrums, or frequent outbursts of anger

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