Human mind is a great learning system. Everyone has the potential to learn and grow. Persons with intellectual disability have an immense potential for learning along with a capacity for understanding feeling, achieving and aspiring.
The limitations in intellectual capacity does create a problem in learning. This can be overcome, to some extent, by strengthening intellectual functions like, attention span, learning, memory, concept learning, thinking and reasoning etc.
Focused training can strengthen these functions and make a better learner. Just like anyone else, they need education, skill building, work opportunities and social-emotional competence. We need to understand how to facilitate the process of development and for us – teachers and parents – it is the most challenging job . It requires positive attitude and creative thinking.
The development cycle does not stop at childhood, puberty or adulthood. It continues. An aware community, teachers and family can provide the appropriate support at each stage of life.
Milestones and needs at different stages of life
Children with intellectual disabilities achieve major milestones e.g. sitting, crawling, walking, and speech development during this period. Proper nutrition, health care, support to achieve developmental milestones, toilet training, comprehension of simple language and learning of simple skills e.g. washing hands, wearing clothes, shoes etc. and engagement with play activities are major goals of this stage. Appreciation, encouragement and unconditional love and acceptance helps them to learn steadily. They need to be treated with patience, love and respect. Parents must be aware of their difficulties and should pay special focus on hygiene.
Children, at this stage, are full of enthusiasm and like to explore new things. The highlights of this age are formation of good habits, learning self-discipline, differentiating desirable vs. undesirable behavior, social etiquette, literacy, awareness about self and surrounding (physical & social environment). They should be able to follow simple instructions, handle small and simple responsibilities, understand their feelings as well as those of others, respond appropriately and maintain hygiene. They need to be treated with respect and acceptance. Recognition of their difficulties helps them develop and learn social skills and build relationships.
Children and adolescents are mostly keen to learn. The key to teaching is that the activity should be interesting and relevant to their life. While the approach on etiquette, awareness etc. will continue, the need to be treated like an adult becomes acute. We must evolve to age appropriate expectations, recognition and acceptance of sexuality and learning of appropriate expression. This is also the stage when vocational learning and employment becomes important. They must be given a responsible role in household activities. Their engagement with leisure time activities, respectful treatment, recognition of their individuality and varied opportunities for new learning assists them to achieve holistic development.
Adults with intellectual disability like social interactions which facilitates a sense of responsibility and maturity. By this stage, we all like to take control of our lives. They appreciate the freedom of choice and the more they exercise it, the more they evolve as independent individuals. They look for emotional stability, opportunities for work/employment, taking responsibilities and at maintaining healthy practices. Exposure to different experiences makes them sure of themselves and allows them to feel a sense of control.
Most people with intellectual disabilities need support throughout their lives. With growing life expectancy, the number of older adults with intellectual disability continues to grow, and community agencies and families now face the challenge of providing support for age-related changes.
They experience age-related health changes earlier than others in a similar age bracket, have a limited access to quality health care, and fewer financial resources. In addition, they are more likely to be living with parents who are also ageing and have very limited social support and friends.
As they age, people with intellectual disability seek the same outcomes as others
- Maintaining their physical and mental health and ability to function as independently as possible
- Actively engaging with life through friendships, contributing to society, and meaningfully participating in community life.