Culture Morale School Psychology

R Word and ID

July 3, 2017

A person who has an intellectual disability has significantly below average intelligence and difficulty with basic life skills.

The majority of people have an IQ score of 85-115, falling within the average range where 100 is perfectly average.  A person who has an intellectual disability will have an IQ that is 70 or less falling in the extremely low range.  Another way to say basic life skills is adaptive behavior which will also fall at 70 or less.  These behaviors help us take care of ourselves and function independently in different environments.  It includes skills like being able to feed yourself, dress yourself, communicate your needs, complete household chores, complete a job application, etc.

It is important to remember that just because a person has an intellectual disability does not mean they cannot do any of these things or that they cannot learn. 

People who have intellectual disabilities are still people, like us, who have their own strengths and weaknesses.  However, these students will likely need more supports and more time to learn.  Their progress will likely be much slower than their peers, and at some point, they may reach a level of understanding and have difficulty increasing knowledge or skill in particular areas.

While their IQ and adaptive behavior scores are below 70, there is still a continuum of abilities below this range.  For example, you may have met someone who has an intellectual disability who has a job, is able to live at home with minimal support, and can communicate well verbally.  You may have also met someone with an intellectual disability who is nonverbal, cannot read and needs help with basic skills like eating and using the restroom.  This is why it is so important to get to know the individual!

An intellectual disability can be co-morbid, meaning it can go along with another condition more frequently than by chance.

A person with Autism may also have an intellectual disability or someone with Down Syndrome may have an intellectual disability.  However, someone with an intellectual disability may not have another condition just like someone with Autism may not have an intellectual disability.  This is another great example of why you have to get to know the individual.

Sometimes the term intellectual disability causes confusion because Mental Retardation is the older out dated term.  The word “retardation” was, unfortunately, used in a derogatory manner causing the need for a more representative term to be used.  If you learn nothing else from this post, please please please do not use the r-word anymore.  Even if you are making what you think is a lighthearted joke to someone – don’t use the r-word.  It can cause pain, anger, and other negative feelings.  There is a wonderful campaign to help end this use.  If you would like more information on “Spread the Word to End the Word,” please visit:

People who are intellectually disabled play a vital role in our society and within their own families. 

They are still capable of learning and making a positive difference in the world.  They can achieve great things when people believe in them and give them appropriate support and tools to maximize their strengths!

*Disclaimer- if anything in this post has offended you and caused you emotional discomfort, please know that was not my intention.  My goal in writing this post is to raise awareness and acceptance to help educators better understand disability categories included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  Please feel free to comment if you have any recommendations on how to better accomplish this task.

You Might Also Like

1 Comment

  • Reply Susan July 3, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    Thank you for writing this, Katie. Very well done, indeed!

  • Leave a Reply