What Are the Levels of Intellectual Disability?

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A diagnosis of intellectual disability mandates the person meet two criteria. The first criterion is a below-average score on an intelligence test. The second is ongoing limited functioning in daily living skills, which include dressing, self-care, communication, typical age level play or education. The term "intellectual disability" replaces the outdated term "mental retardation" but both terms remain in use. Intellectual disabilities are categorized into four different levels, which are based on the person's intelligence quotient score.

Profound Intellectual Disability

  • An IQ score below 20 or 25, along with limited daily functioning identify a profound intellectual disability. People with a diagnosis of a profound intellectual disability may live in group or family homes in the community with extensive supports. These supports may include housekeeping, personal care assistance and recreational support. Federal and state government mandate local school districts provide individualized educational supports for children ages 3 to 21. Educational supports for people with profound intellectual disabilities vary but may include adapted schoolwork, feeding and toileting assistance and occupational, speech and physical therapy.

Severe Intellectual Disability

  • An IQ score in the range of 20 to 40, coupled with limitations in daily living skills, identifies a severe intellectual disability. In general, people with a severe intellectual disability live in group or private homes in the community with supports in employment, homemaking and recreational activities. The local school district provides individualized supports for children ages 3 to 21. Educational supports for children with severe intellectual disabilities often include a paraprofessional in the general education classroom, providing individual help in areas of need and community-living skills. Assessments determine the need for occupational, physical or speech therapy.

Moderate Intellectual Disability

  • Limited daily living skills and an IQ score between 35 and 55 characterize a moderate intellectual disability. People with moderate intellectual disabilities typically live in private homes in the community. Community supports for this level of intellectual disability vary depending on individual need but may include assistance with job training and placement, and personal budgeting. The local school district serves children ages 3 to 21 in the general educational classroom with paraprofessional assistance as needed. Work must be adapted to meet individual needs of the child. Some children with moderate intellectual disabilities qualify for occupational, physical and speech therapy.

Mild Intellectual Disability

  • Limitations of daily living skills along with an IQ score in the 50 to 70 range meets the criteria for a diagnosis of a mild intellectual disability. Many people with mild intellectual disabilities do not need assistance living in private homes in the community, but some do. Family members typically assist people with this level of intellectual disability. Assistance with scheduling, shopping and transportation are common. Children ages 3 to 21 receive individualized services from the local school district. Little change in assignments is usually needed but extended time to complete the assignment and tutorial services generally help the student succeed.

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