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Intellectual Disability

The term 'intellectual disability' refers to a group of conditions caused by various genetic disorders and infections. Intellectual disability is usually identified during childhood, and has an ongoing impact on an individual’s development. Intellectual disability can be defined as a significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information, learn new skills, and cope independently, including social functioning. As with all disability groups, there are many types of intellectual disability, with varying degrees of severity. This includes considerable differences in the nature and extent of the intellectual impairments and functional limitations, the causes of the disability, and the personal background and social environment of the individual. Some people have genetic disorders that impact severely on their intellectual, social and other functional abilities. Others with mild intellectual impairment may develop adequate living skills and are able to lead relatively independent adult lives. Approximately 75 per cent of people with intellectual disability are only mildly affected, and 25 per cent are moderately, severely or profoundly affected.

Impact of Intellectual Disability

The characteristics and impact of a person’s intellectual disability will vary depending on the cause. There are a number of common characteristics that may have a significant impact on an individual’s learning. These include:

  • difficulty understanding new information
  • difficulties with communication and social skills
  • slow cognitive processing time
  • difficulty in the sequential processing of information
  • difficulties comprehending abstract concepts.

Austed discussions during 2014 highlighted the challenges that students with an intellectual disability can experience at university level. Students may cope well with  the ‘hands-on’ components of  post-secondary study, but find it difficult to understand complex information.

One successful strategy to integrate people with intellectual disability into the university learning environment involves providing opportunities for auditing classes. Auditing is an approach whereby a person attends lectures in an award course for general interest (i.e. not for the purpose of completing the requirements of the award). Auditing does not include assessment, online learning material, or attendance at laboratory or tutorial classes. It can include access to the library and general campus facilities.

Disability Practitioner Strategies

There are a range of services and equipment that are commonly facilitated by Disability Practitioners as reasonable adjustments for students with intellectual disability.  

These include:

  • The provision of recorded lectures or a notetaker.
  • Access to peer lecture notes
  • Access to Assistive Technology, such as screen reader and word prediction software
  • Part-time practicums with carefully negotiated goals and steps required
  • Examination timetable with exams spread over non-consecutive days
  • Access to Assistive Technology or scribe in examinations
As a disability practitioner it may be helpful to be aware of inclusive teaching and assessment strategies that can assist all students. ADCET has identified some specific strategies that may be useful for students with an Intellectual Disability Intellectual Disability Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Strategies