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Understanding Intellectual Disability

How is an intellectual disability defined? Many institutions have deliberated on the topic and have come to the following conclusion.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines an intellectual disability as "a significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information and to learn and apply new skills".

The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) define the disability as 'a significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills and originates before the age of 22'. 

Diagnosing an Intellectual Disability

An intelligence test can provide some clarity regarding the potential presence of an intellectual disability, but it can never be used on its own to determine whether such a disability actually exists. A test of a person’s adaptive behaviour must be used in conjunction to get a fully accurate picture of a person’s state. Depending on their severity, limitations to a person’s adaptive behaviour can have a strong effect on an individual’s life as it can impact a person’s ability to live independently, work and be self-sufficient and even their ability to communicate.

Symptoms of Intellectual Disabilities

A person with an intellectual disability will often present a noticeable learning disability, which is itself often the result of brain damage or dysfunction. Such a disability is usually discovered during early childhood and will be present alongside other development delays. Nevertheless, one should be cautious in focusing on isolated symptoms and coming to a conclusion too quickly, and should seek professional medical advice for a definite diagnosis.

Causes of Intellectual Disabilities

Anything which affects the development of the brain can cause an intellectual disability. This can occur at any time before, after or even during birth and also during childhood. Factors such as, a person’s genes, the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy, meningitis, and oxygen deprivation during birth or even an accident, can result in an intellectual disability. Down syndrome is a common genetic disorder associated with intellectual disability. 

How to Help Persons with Intellectual Disabilities

Awareness Creation

Awareness creation is necessary for the management of intellectual disabilities. With many cases occurring at birth, it would be necessary to make parents aware of what signs to look for in their newborn children. In addition, awareness creation will help parents reduce the risk of their children developing preventable intellectual disabilities. For example, fetal alcohol syndrome is an intellectual disability that results from alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Sensitizing pregnant women about the dangers of alcohol consumption would prevent such conditions in unborn children. 

Inclusive Education

Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) advocates for inclusive education. The Goal calls on all countries to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” However, formal education often excludes persons with intellectual disabilities, especially children.

According to the 2020 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, “those with a sensory, physical or intellectual disability are 2.5 times more likely to have never been in school as their peers without disabilities.”

Commissioned by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the report also acknowledged the misunderstanding of “inclusive education.” Consequently, the report called on education stakeholders to expand their understanding of the term to include all learners, regardless of their disabilities, race, gender, or socioeconomic status.

Further, the report recommended the need for target financing to those left behind and to engage in meaningful consultation with parents. Above all, the report stressed the need to apply Universal Design for Learning to recognize diversity and respond to various learners’ needs.

Adopting the measures recommended in the GEM report will enhance the inclusivity of persons with intellectual disabilities in learning.

Inclusion in International Development

Article 32 of the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) provides for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in international development and aid. However, the global community is yet to realize this provision.

A 2020 report by Inclusion International  indicated that international development and aid excludes persons with intellectual disabilities. According to the report, 99.98 percent of Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding did not include persons with intellectual disabilities. ODA is government aid that promotes and specifically targets developing countries’ economic development and welfare.

To enhance the inclusivity of persons with intellectual disabilities in international development and aid, Inclusion International recommends:

  • Funding of projects seeking to build communities inclusive of persons with intellectual disabilities.
  • Ensuring explicit inclusion of persons with intellectual disabilities in project designs.
  • Assessing projects for CRPD compliance and funding only those projects that promote inclusion.
  • Prioritizing the participation of persons with disabilities in ODA project delivery channels.
  • Collecting and reporting data on the inclusion of persons with disabilities and persons with intellectual disabilities in ODA.

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