Intellectual disability is often poorly understood because its effects vary greatly among those who have it. Many people with intellectual disability are mildly affected and may not be identified until later during school years. Individuals with intellectual disability may also have physical or emotional problems.

People with intellectual disability who have a very low intelligence quotient (IQ) have serious limitations in their ability to function. However, with early intervention and appropriate support, they can also lead satisfying lives. The goal of treating intellectual disability is to help children stay in the family and participate in community life. In most states in the United States, they are guaranteed education and other services.

Intellectual disability begins in childhood and is characterized by limitations in both intelligence and adaptive skills. The following three criteria must be met for a diagnosis of intellectual disability:

  • IQ below 70
  • Significant limitations exist in two or more adaptive skill areas. These include:
    • Communication
    • Community use
    • Functional academics (reading, writing, basic math)
    • Health and safety
    • Home living
    • Leisure
    • Self-care
    • Self-direction
    • Social skills
    • Work
  • The disability begins before age 18