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?
- Teenagers with an intellectual disability may find is easier to remember visual information, such as written letters or numbers, and pictures. This may mean that work presented visually may help some teenagers learn.
- Similarly, teenagers with an intellectual disability may be able to recognise words, letters and numbers and name them aloud. This may mean that some teenagers with an intellectual disability are able to read words that rely more on recognition than on ‘sounding out’.
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
Best practice tips
Provide a supportive environment
Reduce background noise when giving instructions
Planning and organisation
School excursions or camps
Other co-occurring conditions
Visit our resources page for a range of resources that can help to create inclusive education environments for students with disabilities and developmental challenges. Some particularly relevant resources for students with intellectual delay include: