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What is an intellectual disability?

Did you know that roughly 6.5 million people in America have some type of intellectual disability? Odds are, you are likely familiar with someone who has an intellectual disability. These disabilities are challenges within an individual’s cognitive skills, social development, or learning ability. They may find difficulty in specific areas of education, speech, social interaction, or taking care of their own well-being. 

“According to the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, an individual has an intellectual disability if he or she meets three criteria:

  • IQ is below 70.
  • There are significant limitations in adaptive behavior in one or more of the following areas: conceptual, social, or practical skills (skills that are needed to live, work, and play in the community).
  • The condition manifests itself before the age of 22.” (Special Olympics. 2023.)

Depending on the type, disabilities can occur before or after birth. Certain birth defects can affect the chances of disability formation. Some common types include Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Down Syndrome, and Speech or Learning Disorders. It is often that individuals with developmental delays or lower cognitive function will have trouble with absorbing new information, problem-solving, ability to reason, and completing routine tasks most adults do daily.  

What can cause intellectual disabilities?

There are a variety of factors that may cause an intellectual disability. For example, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may occur if the mother consumes alcohol during her pregnancy. Whereas other conditions may be random or genetic. Any genetic errors that occur are likely due to abnormal inheritance of genes or errors when genes combine. Pregnancy complications are another way intellectual disabilities can happen, such as cell division issues or infections. Intellectual disabilities can be caused by external factors as well, such as the symptoms or effects of health conditions or exposure to some diseases. 

Some indications that a young child may be intellectually disabled, include the inability to function or complete tasks such as eating or walking, or delays in learning- particularly in comparison of others in their age group. 

What kind of treatment is available?

Contrary to popular belief, individuals with intellectual disabilities can still live successfully and have a great quality of life. Special education is mandatory in United States public schools to ensure students with disabilities receive a sufficient education. Many businesses also have programs to involve disabled individuals in the workforce. Additionally, the healthcare field has made impressive strides in treating the intellectually disabled. While there is always room for improvement, healthcare is now more accessible, and more programs and communities are available to support this group. 

How have we contributed? 

Focus EduSolutions has spent a great deal exploring options to assist with the social challenges that disabled people may experience. Our research comes partly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic where socializing was problematic. We have proudly recently launched our social app: Hello, It’s Me, where users from many different backgrounds can comfortably interact. The app also provides social coaching, interactive videos and stories, and the chance to conveniently connect with others. Check out Hello, It’s Me now for more details.


1.How common are intellectual disabilities in the USA?

Intellectual disabilities are not uncommon in the USA, with prevalence rates varying across demographics. Understanding their prevalence helps shape inclusive policies and support systems.

2.What causes intellectual disabilities?

Intellectual disabilities can result from diverse factors, including genetic conditions, prenatal exposures, birth complications, and environmental influences that impact brain development.

3.How are intellectual disabilities diagnosed?

Diagnosis involves assessments of intellectual functioning, adaptive behaviors, and developmental milestones. Professionals use standardized tests and evaluations to determine the presence and severity of intellectual disabilities.

4.Can intellectual disabilities be prevented or treated?

While some causes are preventable (like avoiding certain prenatal risks), early interventions, therapies, and educational support can significantly improve cognitive and adaptive abilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

5.What support services are available for individuals with intellectual disabilities?

Support services encompass educational programs, vocational training, therapies, and community resources tailored to help individuals with intellectual disabilities lead fulfilling lives, enhance skills, and maximize independence.

6.What is the role of special education in supporting individuals with intellectual disabilities?

Special education designs individualized learning plans and techniques to accommodate the unique needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities, fostering skill development and confidence.

7.How can families and caregivers best support individuals with intellectual disabilities?

Families and caregivers can provide a nurturing environment by promoting communication, fostering independence, accessing community resources, and offering emotional and practical support.

8.Are there legal protections for individuals with intellectual disabilities in the USA?

Legal frameworks like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) safeguard the rights of individuals with intellectual disabilities, ensuring equal access to education, employment, and public services.

9.What initiatives promote awareness and inclusivity for individuals with intellectual disabilities in the USA?

Advocacy groups, awareness campaigns, and community programs strive to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and create inclusive environments that celebrate the abilities of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

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Schaepper, M. A., M.D., Hauser, M., M.D., & Kagadkar, F., M.D. (2021, August 1). What is Intellectual Disability? American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved August 11, 2023, from

(2022). What is Intellectual Disability? Special Olympics. Retrieved August 11, 2023, from,16.41%20in%20every%201%2C000%20people.

CDC (2022, May 10). Facts About Intellectual Disability. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 11, 2023, from

(2023). What is an intellectual or developmental disability? The Arc of Larimer County. Retrieved August 11, 2023, from

IDEA (2023, January 11). A History of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Retrieved August 11, 2023, from,and%20locality%20across%20the%20country.

Ervin, D. A., Hennen, B., Merrick, J., & Morad, M. (2014, July 15). Healthcare for Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disability in the Community. National Library of Medicine- National Center of Biotechnology Information. Retrieved August 11, 2023, from,can%20and%20should%20be%20done.

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