Intellectual Disability

IMAGE FROM:  Link goes to a post defusing false beliefs about developmental disabilities.  One is that all so disabled are “sweet and happy.”

IMAGE FROM: Press of Atlantic City  This link also takes you to an article about growing old when intellectually disabled. This many is luckier than most for his sister assumed responsibility for him. 

Why this parent advice topic

For a while, I am devoting a great many parent advice posts to getting along in school.  Having talked about the three main learning disabilities, I want to talk a bit about intellectual disabilities and the difference between those and a learning disability.

Intellectual disability: once called idiocy, then retardation, then developmental delay,  and most recently developmental disability, is now called intellectual disability as the result of a bill recently signed by President Obama.

Here is the definition of From the Center for Disease Control–note the new name has not yet been replaced by the CDC:

Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. These conditions begin during the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.

Learning disability: The regulations for the United States Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),  define a learning disability as a

…disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations.

This  definition further states that:

…learning disabilities include such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.

… learning disabilities do not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities; mental retardation; or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.


Read the previous posts if you have not done so yet.  The changing names represent two current trends.  The desire to dwell on strengths, but mostly the name changes are an effort to do away with stigma.  So my tips today are about reducing stigma.

Parent tip one: Understand the roots of stigma. Stigma stems from fear of the unknown what my guru Jerome Kagan calls one of the major sources of uncertainty.  It is build deep into our beings as a primal instinct and probably served as a survival skill during times when survival was difficult.  Temperment plays a part.  Some are very shy and hate all new and different experiences. Others are what the experts call “Slow to warm up;” these like to be cautious about exploring the new or different. Finally, some are bold and often might rush into where others fear to tread.

Parent tip two:  Understanding how we respond to uncertainty also helps.  What we do when faced with the new or different involves the following strategies;

If we can cast blame for our uncertainty on another person, “My teacher is stupid,” we feel anger and if we think we are stronger, we are likely to get aggressive in one way or another.  If we don’t feel stronger we simmer with anger, and in time may vent it when we feel safe to do so.  Sadly that often means venting in on an innocent.

If we blame ourselves for our uncertainty, “I’m stupid,” we get depressed and may shut down.

If we cannot find someone or something to blame, we get frightened and either run away or shut down – a form of running away.

Parenting tip three: Obviously, one way to end stigma is to share knowledge about differences both personal and professional. One of the reasons I talk about my problems it an attempt to share personal knowledge. I also share what I have learned professionally.

Parenting tip four:  Shame holds many back from acknowledging a stimatized difference.  Most shame is useless.  It develops in order to keep us from doing the unthinkable, meaning killing a family member.  Shame first appears in children just when needed to save the lives of smaller siblings who mess with your possessions including your parent’s attention.  To combat personal shame follow these steps:

  1. Check reality.  Are you killing someone, molesting someone, or trying to oppress someone? Are you betraying another and exposing them to danger?  Shame is warranted
  2. If shame is not warranted do the opposite of what shame says to do. What is that? Shames says hate yourself and disappear. Acting against shame means honoring your strength and making your shameful secrets public.

Parenting tip five:  Kagan also points out that a major source of uncertainty lies in what he calls conflicting beliefs.  Believe in a certain God?  Those who believe differently might make you uncertain about your beliefs or the other uncertain about theirs.  Tools some use to make war.  Applies also to stigmas attached to learning differences.  If you have any doubt about your intellectual ability both those who are seem smarter and those who seem less smart will create uncertainty in you.  Whenever you feel anger or shame growing ask yourself–what uncertainty is working on me.

Parenting tip six:  Kagen makes one other point about what leads us to hurting others.  His study of morality showed that across all cultures, all humans want to be caring and just. These are two universal imperatives.  Why then do we still make war on each other.  Because a third imperative works on us. That imperative–protect those like us from those who are different.


Life is a struggle, full of pain and suffering. Parenting intensifies the struggle. Parent a child who is different means more struggle.  Such struggles also afford us some of life’s best moments. Do all you can to fight shame, to protect your child and remember to be grateful for all you have been given.  Practice kindness every way you can, including liking, commenting, or sharing this post.


Disclaimer one: Advice is just advice.

Even the most learned researchers and theorists quarrel about much.  Take their advice and mine carefully.  Don’t just listen to your heart, but also think; but don’t just think, listen to your heart.  Heart and head working together increase the odds you will find useful advice amid all the promises and hopes pushed at you by others.  As others have noted, take what seems useful, leave the rest.

Disclaimer two: Forgive my grammatical errors

Not only am I dealing with an aging brain, but all of my life I have been plagued by dysgraphia–a learning disability that is akin to dyslexia when one writes. It was the reason my high school English teacher thought I would fail out of college.  I didn’t.  Moreover,  with the help of some patient and good editors I became an author.  Still mistakes get by.  When I am in a rush,  posts might be peppered with bad spelling, poor punctuation, and worse words that make no sense.

Sigh, if you need perfect posts, you will not find them  here;  I will understand if you don’t follow me.  If  you want to hang in with me, thank you; if a post doesn’t make sense or bugs you too much, try reading it a few days later.  Often I catch the worse mistakes when I read the post after a few days.

Meanwhile, forgive me, it is an Emotional Fitness Training exercise and practicing it will strengthen your ability to deal with stress, frustration, and all the other negative emotions.

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