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Intellectual Disability

Intellectual disability is a developmental disorder where the individual faces more difficulty than others in grasping concepts and solving problems. The international definition for intellectual disability has three criteria:

  • Significant limitations in intelligence (classified as an IQ level of 70 or below)
  • Significant limitations in the skills needed to live and work in the community, including difficulties with communication, self-care, social skills, safety, and self-direction.
  • Limitations in intelligence and living skills are evident in the developmental period (i.e. before the person is aged 18 years)

Where there is a co-existence of mental illness and intellectual disability, accurate diagnosis and treatment are particularly challenging because of the individual's impaired cognitive abilities and attention, functional deficits, communication difficulties, and other co-morbid developmental disabilities, such as autism.

For people with intellectual disability, mental disorders can seriously affect their daily functioning, disrupt family relations, and prevent access to community resources for care, training and habilitation. The mental disorder often manifests as behavioural difficulties or changes, which require a proper assessment from an inter-disciplinary team of mental health professionals, so that appropriate treatment can be given. Treatment includes the judicious use of medicines, behavioural therapy and occupational therapy. The treatment plans usually look into addressing sensory issues, improving communication skills, advising on environmental manipulation, changing maladaptive behaviour and optimising functional capabilities.

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