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4 Types of Intellectual Disabilities

Intellectual disabilities can be due to health problems, genetic conditions, environmental factors, and problems during pregnancy and birth. The common types of intellectual disabilities include: Down syndrome, fragile x syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, and Prader-Willi syndrome.


Intellectual disability is the impairment of cognitive functioning. It is characterized by impairment in adaptive functioning where individuals experience difficulties carrying out daily activities such as communication, socialization, and independent living.  

Individuals diagnosed with intellectual disabilities tend to experience general learning challenges and may take a little longer to develop social and practical skills. 

Intellectual disabilities can be due to health problems, genetic conditions, environListiclemental factors, and problems during pregnancy and birth.  

The common types of intellectual disabilities include Down syndrome, fragile x syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, and Prader-Willi syndrome.  

If you want to learn the various types of intellectual disabilities in detail, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide below. Check it out.

  • 1

    Down’s Syndrome 

    Down’s syndrome is an intellectual disability stemming from having a part of or an extra copy of chromosome 21 in the DNA. It is the most common chromosomal cause of mild to moderate intellectual disabilities in children. Down syndrome affects development in children with down syndrome reaching key developmental stages later than the rest of the same age children. Down syndrome’s common symptoms include slow learning, short attention span, impulsive behavior, poor judgment, and delayed language and speech development. Children with Down syndrome have poor muscle tone, making them take longer to learn how to make some movements such as turning over, walking, standing, and sitting. Some of the physical characteristics of individuals with Down syndrome include flattened facial profile and nose, upward slanting eyes, and small head, ears, and mouth.  Additionally, individuals with Down syndrome are prone to other health factors such as heart abnormalities, hearing loss, autism, vision problems, and respiratory conditions. Although children with down syndrome have a slower development rate, they will eventually meet all or any of the development milestones. Also, the lifespan of individuals with Down syndrome has increased due to increased research and technology in the area.

  • 2

    Fragile X Syndrome

    Fragile X Syndrome is the most prevalent form of inherited developmental and intellectual disability. This genetic disorder results from a change or mutation in the X chromosome. The disability affects the development of a person, more so in the areas of learning and behavior. What’s more, it can affect physical appearance, communication skills, and sensitivity to the individual’s light and noise with intellectual disability.  It is worth noting that the fragile x syndrome disability is more prevalent in boys than girls.  Individuals with fragile x syndrome do not exhibit the same signs and symptoms. However, they have common signs, including:

    • Problems with speech and language 
    • Attention disorders Problems with hyperactivity 
    • Anxiety  Developmental delay 
    • Problems processing sensory information 
    • Aggressiveness (ADHD)
    • Trouble making eye contact 
  • 3

    Fetal Alcohol Syndrome 

    Fetal alcohol syndrome is an intellectual disability caused by exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy expose their children the risk of this disability. The severity of the disability depends on the child’s level of exposure to alcohol during pregnancy, where mothers who drink large quantities of alcohol during pregnancy increase the risk of severe symptoms in their children.  The common symptoms found in children with fetal alcohol syndrome include:

    • Facial, limb, and joint deformities
    • Poor memory and judgment
    • Learning disabilities
    • Poor social skills
    • Sensory difficulties, including hearing and vision
    • Heart problems and defects 
    • Behavioral problems
    • Slow physical growth 

    To avoid the possibility of having cases of fetal alcohol syndrome, pregnant women are advised to avoid alcohol at all costs. Also, in some countries such as the United States, mothers who give birth to children with fetal alcohol syndrome are at risk of their children being taken away from them, as stated by the law. Most of the symptoms of the disability can be reversed if early intervention is considered, such as surgeries to correct heart and neurological problems. 

  • 4

    Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS)

    Prader-Willi syndrome is a genetic disorder occurring due to a problem with a part of chromosome 15. Babies born with the disability are poor feeders at infancy. Still, the feeding habit changes at the age of two, where the kids’ hunger becomes insatiable, making them unable to control their appetite. The voracious hunger leads to problems such as diabetes and obesity.  Symptoms of individuals with Prader-Willi syndrome include:

    • Intellectual disability (problem-solving, language, and math difficulties)
    • Poor muscle tone
    • Diabetes Obesity 
    • Short stature 
    • Hyperphagia
    • Emotional difficulties
    • Skin picking
    •  Hormone deficiencies 
    • Sleep issues such as sleep apnea

    Children below the age of two tend to exhibit developmental delays, weak cry, feeding difficulties, and undernourishment. During the teenage years, Prader-Willi syndrome leads to delayed puberty, increased risk of scoliosis, and increased social skill deficiencies.  Interventions at an early age can help manage the symptoms of Prader-Willi, more so in the areas of intellectual ability of the child.

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