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Children's Health

Intellectual Disability (Mental Retardation)

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What services are available for people with intellectual disability?

For babies and toddlers, early intervention programs are available. A team of professionals works with parents to write an Individualized Family Service Plan, or IFSP. This document outlines the child’s specific needs and what services will help the child thrive. Early intervention may include speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, family counseling, training with special assistive devices, or nutrition services.

School-aged children with intellectual disabilities (including preschoolers) are eligible for special education for free through the public school system. This is mandated by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Parents and educators work together to create an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, which outlines the child’s needs and the services the child will receive at school. The point of special education is to make adaptations, accommodations, and modifications that allow a child with an intellectual disability to succeed in the classroom.

What can I do to help my intellectually disabled child?

Steps to help your intellectually disabled child include:

  • Learn everything you can about intellectual disabilities. The more you know, the better advocate you can be for your child.
  • Encourage your child’s independence. Let your child try new things and encourage your child to do things by himself or herself. Provide guidance when it’s needed and give positive feedback when your child does something well or masters something new.
  • Get your child involved in group activities. Taking an art class or participating in Scouts will help your child build social skills.
  • Stay involved. By keeping in touch with your child’s teachers, you’ll be able to follow his or her progress and reinforce what your child is learning at school through practice at home.
  • Get to know other parents of intellectually disabled children. They can be a great source of advice and emotional support.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on March 16, 2013
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