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About intellectual disability
Students with intellectual disability find it harder to learn, which means they need extra time and help to learn new skills. While intellectual disability can look different from one student to another, students with intellectual disability may experience differences in their:
- Thinking and organisation. Students with intellectual disability will typically experience difficulties in some form with thinking skills, such as attention, reasoning, problem solving, memory, planning, and judgement (e.g. understanding and predicting risks). This can impact the speed or way in which they best learn, and they tend to need extra time and help to learn new skills or knowledge (e.g. reading, maths). Some students may be easily distracted and need support with organisation, or they may find instructions with several steps hard to follow. Students with intellectual disability often prefer concrete learning tasks, and multi-modal or hands-on learning tasks.
- Communication and social skills. Students with intellectual disability may seem socially immature for their age, and they may find it difficult to understand body language (e.g. facial expression, gestures). Some students might have lots of language and others might only use a few words or no words.
- Emotions and behaviour. Some students can find it challenging to manage their emotions and behaviour, or to recognise and respond to the emotions of others. Some students may be gentle and calm, while others may become frustrated or distressed and engage in challenging behaviours. Students with intellectual disability may experience low self-confidence or depression, anxiety or frustration if they consistently find they are unable to complete a task or have their needs met.
- Practical skills. Some students may need support and lots of opportunities to practise practical skills, such as dressing, eating or toileting, or telling the time and handling money.
- Health and movement. Some students may tire easily, particularly when there are many demands on them. They may find some motor skills difficult. Some may also be restless, or over-active.
What might be some strengths?
- Many children with intellectual disability enjoy play, and learning through play.
- Children may show lots of interest in activities that involve play.
- They may have good fine and gross motor skill development through play.
Where might you provide support?
- They might need more time to think and understand. They might not understand instructions if they are given a lot of information at once.
- They may take longer to learn new skills. Structure and routine may help them.
- They can be very social and friendly, and like talking and spending time with other people. However, sometimes, they might stand too close or be overfamiliar with people.
Consider adjustments to communication style
Consider adjustments to activities and rules
Provide lots of opportunities to practise
Provide opportunities to work with their classmates
Best practice tips
Provide a supportive environment.
Reduce background noise when giving instructions.
Simplify instructions and limit the information given at once.
Other co-occurring conditions
Visit our resources page for a range of resources that can help to create inclusive education environments for children with disabilities and developmental challenges. AllPlay Learn’s stories can help children with intellectual disability become familiar with primary school and some of the skills they need to participate in these settings. Other relevant resources for children with intellectual disability are: