Intellectual Disability

two people working together in a garden


Understanding Intellectual Disabilities

Intellectual disability refers to significant limitations in learning, thinking, solving problems, making sense of the world, and developing everyday life skills. All people with intellectual disabilities are capable of learning and can live a worthwhile and happy life.

Do not assume that a person has an intellectual disability because of the presence of another disability. Individuals with intellectual disabilities can still feel the influence of the Spirit.

Some people may require support in only a few specific areas, and others require support in almost every area of life. An intellectual disability often affects a person’s communication, social, and self-care skills. It also affects a person’s ability to learn and remember. Common causes include head injuries, Down syndrome, and fetal alcohol syndrome. Intellectual disability is often associated with other disabilities as well.

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Ways to Help

  • After consulting with family or caregivers, identify strengths, abilities, and learning style and offer specific praise for accomplishments and positive behavior. Provide opportunities to serve.
  • Set high but realistic expectations based on the individual’s skills and abilities.
  • Make eye contact and speak directly with kindness to the person using short, clear phrases.
  • Allow for extra time to respond to a question or situation.
  • Allow persons to perform tasks for themselves as much as possible.
  • Encourage genuine friendships.
  • Always speak in kind ways, eliminating the use of derogatory or slang words, and help others to do likewise.

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Teaching Tips

  • Break down assignments or requests into small steps. For example, instead of asking someone to get ready for a prayer you might break the task into the smaller steps of folding arms, bowing head, and closing eyes. Be prepared to use repetition in teaching.
  • Prayerfully select an opportunity for members with intellectual disabilities to participate in the lesson. Examples might be selecting the music, reading a scripture, holding a picture, sharing a testimony, answering questions, and so forth.
  • Use teaching ideas such as role playing, object lessons, and other visual aids to illustrate difficult concepts. Break difficult concepts down into simple ones.
  • Communicate using simple phrases, and repeat important ideas.
  • Look for opportunities for students to work in small groups.
  • Establish a consistent classroom routine where students feel comfortable participating.
  • Be positive; smile.
  • Know that Heavenly Father will provide inspiration as you prayerfully and faithfully seek that blessing.
  • Teachers should not assume that a student with an intellectual disability has a need to be baptized or receive other ordinances. Make an effort to understand each individual’s situation.

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