backup og meta
Health Screening
Ask Doctor

5 Facts About Intellectual Disability in Children

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jan 15, 2023

5 Facts About Intellectual Disability in Children

A child with an intellectual disability (ID) may experience challenges in many aspects of their life while growing up. Here are 5 crucial facts to know about intellectual disability in children.

1. The impact of an intellectual disability varies in children

One of the most important facts about intellectual disability is its effects vary from one child to another. The symptoms depend on the cause; similarly, the management strategies greatly influence the extent of the effects.

To give you a more in-depth view of the possible signs and symptoms of ID, please refer to this guide:

Shortly after birth, some children may exhibit:

  • Unusual shape of the hands or feet
  • Unusual facial features, e.g., unusually big or small head

While growing up, children with ID show physical signs like:

  • failure to eat and grow as expected
  • difficulty in hitting some milestones like rolling over, crawling, sitting up, standing, and walking
  • weakness, seizures, tiredness, throwing up
  • urine with an unusual smell

Sometimes, the symptoms only become evident once they enter school, in ways such as:

2. “Intellectual disability” better describes the scope and reality of the developmental condition

Before, people used “mental retardation” to refer to the symptoms we described earlier. However, the majority of health institutions across the world no longer use that term.

Instead, we now use the word intellectual disability (or learning disability in British references). Experts highlight that ID better explains the scope and reality of having intellectual challenges.

3. IQ tests are not the only way to assess an ID

Many people think that the only way to diagnose an intellectual disability is through Intelligence Quotients (IQ) tests. But, IQ tests only measure a person’s “fluid” intelligence or ability to use information to answer questions and make predictions.

If you look back on the possible signs and symptoms of an intellectual disability, you’ll notice that its effects go way beyond cognitive challenges. According to reports, someone who has ID has limitations in both their intellectual functioning (planning, reasoning, judgment, etc.) and adaptive behavior.

Hence, more than just checking their IQ, experts also need to assess their adaptive behavior. They can do this by checking how the child performs their daily activities, such as following rules, using money, solving social problems, and taking care of themselves.

4. Intellectual disability has many causes

Another of the essential facts about intellectual difficulty is that it may result from several causes.

Many of those causes happen before birth when the baby’s brain is still developing. Examples include:

  • Chromosomal conditions such as Down syndrome
  • Problems during pregnancy, such as malnutrition, substance abuse, gestational hypertension, and certain infections.
  • Inherited conditions such as Tay Sachs disease (a neurodegenerative disorder)

Babies who experience problems during birth, like oxygen deprivation and severe prematurity, may also develop ID.

But, is it also possible for a baby to develop an intellectual disability after they are born? Experts say it’s possible. The risk of ID increases with:

  • Lead poisoning
  • Brain tumor
  • Brain infection
  • Head injury
  • Abuse and neglect

5. There are several ways to manage ID

The management of intellectual disabilities in children depends on their symptoms and their needs.

The goal includes ensuring that the child achieves optimum health, so any immediate health concern takes priority. Another goal would be to enhance their functioning. For this reason, parents usually work closely with the healthcare team, which may include:

  • Doctors or pediatricians
  • Psychologists or counselors
  • Speech, physical, and occupational therapists
  • Nutritionists
  • Special education teachers

Next steps

As with any condition, early diagnosis and intervention significantly increase the chance of good outcomes.

If you suspect that your child has an intellectual disability, please bring them to the doctor, so they can further assess the symptoms and administer necessary tests.

Learn more about Behavioral and Developmental Disorders here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Jan 15, 2023

ad iconadvertisement

Was this article helpful?

ad iconadvertisement
ad iconadvertisement