intellectual disability

Intellectual Disability and Defining Intelligence

Intellectual Disability has historical been defined as an IQ under 70, but where does the 70 arrive from. The following addresses issues surrounding the meaning and measurement of intelligence. It identifies issues and proposes solutions.

intellectual disability

Defining Intellectual Disability

Intelligence means “the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations : the skilled use of reason (2) : the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests): mental acuteness” (Merriam-Webster, 2006). This means in order to arrive at any number a persons brain is challenged to remember things, to code things, to build things, and in general to manipulate things. Intelligence comes in a wide range of areas, which leads us directly to some of the problems with defining intelligence.

Intelligence Meaning Issues:

  • Finding a universal definition. There are so many variations of intelligence. Are the correct one’s being tested?
  • How to test. Each individual is different. Some are great with the two person environment, yet others might need something else to show their true potential.
  • Does test accommodate the child’s abilities/disabilities?  Some people have a hard time fully expressing any of the great things going on in their mind.
  • Is the definition reliable enough to be used for children’s placement. Just how accurate of a picture are we getting?

Possible Solutions:

  • Intelligence should be defined in a more universal manor
  • Tests should be used as an aide with other information collected on the child
  • More than one test in each domain using different mediums should used
Related Articles to ‘Intellectual Disability and Defining Intelligence’

Intellectual Disability: Social and Ethical Decisions

Problems While Testing Those With Mental Retardation

End the R-Word

This is a great short clip about choosing better language. It’s worth a watch! It’s something all of us could work to improve as there are many offensive words out there that might mean more to a person than simply what you are saying. Let’s all think a little bit more about the words that come out of our mouths and end the r-word.

intellectual disabilities

Intellectual Disability: Social and Ethical Decisions

Being diagnosed with an Intellectual Disability poses a series of questions and struggles. The following takes you through the beginning life phases and the choices parents face while raising a child diagnosed with an intellectual disability.

intellectual disabilities

Prenatal Period

In the prenatal period, it is important that parents are encouraged to do those preventive measures that are least invasive to the baby.  For example, through informational hand outs and possible financial assistance, parents can receive information on proper ways to care for themselves and their baby.  Some of the topics would include prenatal care and the importance of not drinking alcohol, excessive caffeine, doing drugs, or smoking cigarettes. If parents or the fetus are at risk, there are medical procedures that can test the child for disabilities.  Often these tests include a risk for miscarriage.  Parents must face whether they think that it is worth this risk.  If they do decide to go this extra step and find that their child does have a disability, they must face deciding on abortion, adoption, or keeping the child.

Early Years

Early years, includes children 0-5 years old.  Often this is the time that the family is adjusting to having a child with an intellectual disability.  It can be full of troubling issues as the parents coup with their child’s diagnosis and perhaps the chance that their child will not live a long life.  After the child is born, the parent can choose not to use radical measures to prolong the child’s life and thus deal have to deal with the death of their child.  As well as this decision, there are also many more, which include is the child and family life Teaching Standard meets Exceptional Needs Standards, three children with exceptional needs, Interactions with children, Engage students in communication and literacy, Engage Students in Social Development, use of assessment, and Out of Classroom Collaboration or will the child have to be institutionalized.  There are also questions about services, and the adult put into the decision making position for the individual with an intellectual disability may need to learn how to advocate for their child.

School Years

There are many things for family to face. The parent must decide at the school level what program they want their child in.  Are they going to go to a private specialized school?  Are they going to integrate to peer’s without disabilities programs? Or are they going to go to the public school, but still be separated?  With the parents facing so many questions, they may seek assistance from teachers and/or try to find comfort in their decision from the teachers.  As a teacher, it is important to respect the parents decision.  Then throughout the educational process parents and individuals face more decisions with goals and their educational program.


Parents face many decisions when their child with an intellectual disability reaches adulthood.  They may have to stop and ask themselves, if their child is ready? Do they have the skills to take on the responsibility of adulthood?  Where will they live? Will they work? If so, where?  How will they receive the support necessary to live a fulfilling and safe adulthood?  These questions may lead the parent to feeling overly protective and/or all alone.  As a teacher, it is important to provide support for families as they go through this transition.  It is also important to give a realistic evaluation of the child and direct the family to the appropriate services.


  • Parents face many options when they have a child with an intellectual disability
  • Everyone involved needs appropriate information
  • Families need to find a place of support while making decisions and raising a child with an intellectual disability

Other Resources


Mental Retardation: the Background and the Issues

Some of the issues relating to mental retardation are the terminology, laws, diagnosis, and symptoms of a child with mental retardation.

Terminology of Mental Retardation

We used to label children TMH (trainable Mentally handicap) and EMH (educable mentally handicap) for the primary reason of not saying “retardation” as a label. However, in the last few years, the labels have changed to MIMR, mildly mentally retarded, and MOMR, severely mentally retarded, with there also being common use of the label Intellectual Disabilities. All of these different ways to say the same thing can create some issues with others keeping pace with the terminology and some getting confused.

Laws of Mental Retardation

Issues relating to the law of “no child left behind.” This law states that no matter the severity of the disability the child should be main-steamed into the regular classroom so that they are exposed to the same opportunities as typically developing children. However, the drawback to this is that the curriculum, language used by teacher and students, does not necessarily match the child effected learning abilities. It can lead to disruptions to the rest of the class, as well as, seclusion of the child.

Diagnosis of Mental Retardation

Issues relating to identification of mental retardation are the comparison of standard scores and their IQ. IQ is rates by scores. For example, an IQ of 130 and above means Very Superior, an IQ of 120-129 means Superior, an 110-119 means High Average, an IQ of 90-109 means Average, an IQ of 80-89 means Low Average, an IQ of 70-79 means MIMR, and an IQ 69 and Lower means MOMR. Standard scores are principles that all standardized tests have to allow a psychologist to “label” a child. If their Standard Score were 72, they would fall in the MIMR range. The final decision is suppose to be a “team ” decision, but an issue might arise if the teachers involved, the psychologist, and parent do not agree.

Symptoms of Mental Retardation

The impact of characteristics might be physical appearance, different walking gaits, being made fun of, being picked on, getting into trouble because they cannot think things through and don’t understand the consequences, and being taken advantage of by regular students.


All of these issues demonstrate how difficult it is not to offend some, how to get the child proper intervention, and how steer through the evolving politics. By discussing with others the issues related to mental retardation, it helps to better understand how many issues there truly are in society.

Problems While Testing Those With Mental Retardation

There are a variety of problems associated with assessing students with Mental Retardation, MR. It is most important to remember this population of students are individuals, and they must be evaluated as such. Each child has her/his own strengths and weaknesses. A teacher may also need to consider that there are other possible handicaps that may interfere and require additional supports. Some other disabilities that may coincide with intellectual disabilities include: visually impairment, emotionally disturbed, speech and language impairment, hearing impairment, traumatic brain injury, orthopedic impairment, and/or Autism. It is also very important to take note of any medications the child is on, as they may interfere with the child’s testing abilities. A child’s race, sex, primary language, and ethnic background need to be considered as these to could affect the testing. When assessing a child, a statement needs to be written indicating their handicapping condition is not a result of economic, environmental, or educational disadvantage.

When testing, it is important to remember?

Tests using Standard Scores must be used to qualify a child for special education. The following represents the use of Standard Scores as the rating scale, which qualifies a student for Mental Retardation.

Standard Scores:

  • Severe: 62 or below (55 or below for Preschool Sever Delay)
  • Moderate: 77 to 63
  • Mild: 85 to 78 (or 1 ½ standard deviations on one area)

According to the Arizona Academic Standards, assessments resulting in age equivalents and grades are to be reported as the following levels: (Ages – Grades)

  • Pre-Academic Functional Level:  3 – 4 Preschool
  • Readiness Level:  5 – 6 Kindergarten
  • Essentials Level:  7 – 9 1st – 3rd Grade
  • Foundations Level:  10 – 14 4th – 8th Grade

The characteristics of children with Mental Retardation that result in eligibility for special education include personal abilities like washing their face, domestic abilities like making their own bed, and community abilities like obeying traffic lights language. A child with an intellectual disability needs to learn these abilities, and by having extra help in special education classrooms, they have the chance to take time to learn the skill. Some other skills they may need to acquire include: Interpersonal relationships skills like imitates simple adult movements, play and leisure skills like using common household objects for play, and/or coping skills like saying “please” when asking for things. A special education classroom provides the added structure to support a student with Mental Retardation to learn basic skills at a slower pace and focus on their specific goals.It is important to remember that each student’s needs are defining by the individual and not the disability.

For more information, check out this related article:

Intellectual Disability and Different Intelligences