Types of intellectual disability (and characteristics)

Oligophrenia, mental retardation, intellectual disability … all these words refer to the same concept, which designates people who have less cognitive resources than what would be appropriate for their chronological age. People with some type of intellectual disability.

This type of disability usually results in severe difficulties in adapting to the environment, unless they receive a sufficient level of support. But intellectual disability is not unique and homogeneous in all people who suffer from it, but we can find different types or degrees depending on the degree of functional impairment and the level of IQ.

Normal distribution and intelligence

Intelligence is a construction that refers to the individual’s ability to adapt to the environment and solve any situation you come across. Regardless of how it is viewed in the multiple theories in this regard, different people will need to be organized differently and their mental capacities will be affected for various reasons and variables. Each of us has a specific and distinctive degree of skill or ability in different areas and abilities, including the ability to solve problems and adapt to the environment.

Evaluate the intelligence level of the population IQ level is traditionally used, Understood as the relationship between mental age and the chronological age of the individual to be assessed. Since there is great variability in the scores reflected by the population as a whole, it should be noted that one would always expect there to be some dispersion of scores around the mean. This expected dispersion is conceptualized as a standard deviation.

Statistically, intelligence follows a normal distribution. In other words, if we assess the cognitive abilities of a population with an intelligence test, a large majority of people would have scores very similar to each other while few individuals would score far from the majority. People with this type of score, far from the majority, could either score more or less.

After setting the average IQ to a value of 100 and being the standard deviation of 15, values ​​that are at a distance of at least two standard deviations are considered normative. If these two deviations are given above, we would speak of giftedness, while waiting if the values ​​are given two deviations below the mean we will talk about a level of intelligence corresponding to an intellectual disability.

    Types of intellectual disability

    Intellectual disability is understood as a condition in which people with intellectual disability have severe limitations and impairments in intellectual functioning, problems with reasoning, planning, problem solving or learning.

    In addition, these people have problems adapting to the environment and need help in one or more dimensions of human functioning because their daily life is not limited in their personal autonomy and social participation. It is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder, and these difficulties should be observed during development.

    However, this is not a completely homogeneous category, which is why different types of intellectual disabilities have been established according to their degree of deviation from the mean.

    Different degrees of disability

    Cognitive skills are important to be able to respond effectively to the demands of the environment. Thus, people who have a reduced capacity in these type of skills will find it difficult to cope with situations that arise throughout their life.

    Depending on the level of difficulty these people encounter on a daily basis and the level of CI reflected by the intelligence test, the existence of various groups, types or degrees of intellectual disability has been taken into account.

    However, it should be noted that the degree of CI is not an absolute measure, but a relative measure; it always depends on a reference group, because the IQ indicates the position occupied by the person in the distribution of the scores obtained. Therefore, by changing the reference group, a score may fall within the normal range of intelligence or within what is considered an intellectual disability. IC indicates individual differences between people, but to accurately measure a person’s true cognitive abilities, there are other tools and methods.

    1. Take it

    A mild or mild intellectual disability is considered to be that which people 1 IQ between 50 and 70, Corresponding to two standard deviations below the population mean. Most people with intellectual disabilities (around 85%) are at this level.

    People with this degree of intellectual disability mainly have a delay in the cognitive field and a slight impairment of the sensorimotor. Learning abilities are slightly delayed, but they can remain in the education system, be trained and properly engage in professional activity. They are able to read, write and do calculations, although they generally require a longer period of learning than others. In fact, it is possible that during kindergarten, no major difference is observed with their peers.

    Some problems with memory, executive functions and abstract thinking can be observed. Their communication and social skills can be good, although they often show difficulty detecting social cues and regulating their emotions and behavior. Most of them are self-employed, who need social guidance in specific situations and help with legal, economic or parental issues. Although they need supports, their adaptation to the environment is generally satisfactory.

    2. Moderate

    In this degree of intellectual disability, the difficulties are greater. In terms of education, they can generally benefit from specific vocational training, generally to carry out low-skilled and supervised work. They can have autonomy in personal care and travel.

    Conceptual skills of these subjects develop very slowly, there is a big difference compared to the peer group. They often need help when the tasks at hand require the processing of complex concepts. Their communication is effective in the social, although not very complex. The subject is able to establish relationships with the environment and to form new relationships with people outside the family.

    Although they may have difficulty following social conventions, they generally adapt well to community life, especially under supervision. Individuals can take responsibility for their own decisions and participate in social life, but with support and a prolonged learning period.

    People with a moderate degree of intellectual disability they generally reflect a CI of between 35 and 50.

    3. Severe

    With an IQ between 20 and 35The problems of people with this level of disability are usually of great importance and require support and continuous monitoring. Many of them have neurological damage.

    Conceptually, the skills of people with this degree of intellectual disability are reduced, with poor understanding of reading and digital concepts. communicationally language is possible but limited, focusing on the present and being frequent, they use holophrases or vague words. They understand simple gestural and oral communication, being the relationship with loved ones a source of joy.

    In daily activities, these subjects should always be supervised and cared for, depending on helpers and guards. They can learn to speak and perform simple tasks. Their adaptation to the community can be good if they do not have other associated disabilities. Acquiring skills is possible, needing constant help and a long learning process. Some of them self-harm. Legally, they are considered incapable of making your own decisions.

    4. Deep

    The highest degree of intellectual disability and also most rarely, people with this level of disability have a CI below 20. They need constant care, having very few options unless they have a level very high support and supervision. In general, their survival rate is low.

    Most have severe difficulties and other severe disabilities, as well as major neurological problems. At the conceptual level that these people use take into account mainly physical concepts, suffering serious difficulties in using symbolic processes. The use of objects for personal care, work or play is possible, but it is common for other alterations to prevent them from functional use. At the sensorimotor level, they are very limited, as well as at the communicative level.

    In terms of communication and social skills, they can understand instructions and gestures, but they should be simple and straightforward. Emotional expression occurs primarily through direct non-verbal communication, without symbolism. They like the relationship with their acquaintances. On a practical level, the subject will depend for most activitiesAlthough they can help in some activities, which allows them to participate in the daily life of the home and society.

    The need for help

    In conclusion of this article, it is relevant to mention that a person it is only disabled insofar as it does not have the tools to adapt to the environment, Because of their difficulties and the lack of support to help them resolve them. In this sense, intellectual disability is no exception. We cannot just point out that a person has an intellectual disability and limit the problem to the individual; society has a lot to say about changing the living conditions of these vulnerable people.

    We must work from the different disciplines (psychology, justice, law, education and social assistance, among others) so that these people and the people who care for them can actively participate in the social life of the community, building bridges between the capacities of each individual and what society can offer and demand through the provision of specific and functional aids.

    Bibliographical references:

    • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.

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