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Quick Facts on Intellectual Disability (Intellectual Developmental Disorder)

A brief overview of the signs and symptoms of intellectual disability, and how it's treated in children and adolescents.

en Español


Children with intellectual disability (also known as  intellectual developmental disorder), have deficits in general intellectual functioning. They struggle with skills like reasoning, planning, judgment, thinking abstractly, and multiple types of learning. Many of the symptoms of intellectual disability are what people tend to call “mental retardation,” a term used in past versions of the DSM until the DSM-5 renamed the disorder. The symptoms are split into three general categories: conceptual, social, and practical.

Conceptual Impairments

  • Deficits across the board in multiple types of learning, and throughout multiple developmental stages
  • Falling behind in school or other academic environments
  • Struggling with skills such as memory, problem-solving, knowledge, and reasoning

Social Impairments

  • Struggling to communicate and digest new information
  • Lack of social inhibitions due to failure to interpret certain signs or behaviors of others
  • Difficulty making and keeping friends

Practical Impairments

  • Delays in skills young children learn naturally, such as crawling, walking, and talking
  • Difficulty mastering practical, everyday skills such as personal care or money management
  • Lack of ability to manage responsibilities or organize tasks

Treatment of intellectual disability

Many special education programs can help children with intellectual disability. While it is a lifelong disorder, these programs use management and rehabilitation to help children improve on the skills they lack and live as happily and autonomously as possible.

This article was last reviewed or updated on July 27, 2021.