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Published on 15 Apr 2013
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Chapter 1 Understanding Intellectual Disabilities
Historical Perspectives
o The concept of intellectual disabilities is continually influenced by economic, social, and
political climates of various cultures throughout history
Disciplines and Professions
o Disciplinary Perspectives and Contributions
In many ways people with intellectual disabilities are similar to the individuals
without disabilities
During their lifetime those with intellectual disabilities will receive a broader range
of professions than those who are not disabled
No single discipline has the breadth and depth of expertise and resources necessary
to fully support people who have intellectual disabilities
o Terminology
The term intellectual disabilities is an encompassing one that includes a wide range
of behaviour
Both a label of fact and a label of conjecture
The orientation of a discipline affects its view of people with intellectual disabilities
Physicians look for medical causes, psychologists seek psychological factors,
etc
o Contributions of Biological and Medical Sciences
Medical professionals have long been involved with intellectual disabilities
Advances in medical research have had a dramatic impact in several areas related to
intellectual disabilities
Advances in genetics have opened avenues that will allow professionals to prevent
many forms of intellectual disabilities
At present, some forms of intellectual disabilities are preventable before
conception
Psychiatry has a lengthy history of dealing with intellectual disabilities
o Contributions of the Behavioural Sciences
Each field has generally operated independently and within the confines of its own
terminology and parameters
Psychology has been the behavioural science most directly involved in the scientific
study of intellectual disabilities
Three important psychological contributions:
Intelligence theory and testing
Learning theory research
Interpersonal social aspects
Anthropology is a discipline that has not been broadly involved in intellectual
disabilities but one that may make substantial contributions in an interdisciplinary
effort
The law has been an important force in the area of intellectual disabilities
o Contributions of Education
Education has been integrally involved with the challenges associated with
intellectual disabilities
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The contributions of education in aiding the understanding of intellectual disabilities
has been to:
Identify needs
Stimulate research and theory
Coordinate and deliver instruction and related services
The measurement of intelligence has been influenced largely by educational needs
rather than by the interests of the discipline
o Disciplinary Collaboration
To better support individuals with intellectual disabilities, professionals must
coordinate efforts and involve the family
The different professions are making progress towards bridging the gap among their
perspectives
The acquisition of enough information to understand another perspective broadens
professional viewpoints and focuses effort on the person needing services
Similar cooperative efforts are essential in state services and political arenas
Implementing the principle of inclusion for all children with disabilities involves
placing a significant number of such children in general educational classrooms
Concepts, Definitions, and Classification
o Intellectual Disabilities As A Concept
The concept is made more complex because the varying professions that deal with it
hold widely divergent viewpoints
Intellectual disabilities always implies a reduced level of intellectual capacity, and
the concept of intelligence has played a central but variable role in defining
intellectual disabilities
Part of the difficulty in defining intellectual disabilities relates to the notion of
performance and measurement of intelligence
The central focus the individual with the intellectual disability is in danger of
being ignored
Human development is an excellent framework for examining intellectual disabilities
o Intellectual Disabilities: A Definition in Transition
The definition of intellectual disabilities is currently in a transition period
The AAMR (2002) definition of intellectual disabilities states that:
Mental retardation is a disability characterized by significant limitations
both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behaviour as expressed in
conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills. This disability originates
before age 18.
Add to this definition 5 essential assumption that are key in applying the definition:
Assumption 1: Limitations in present functioning must be considered within
the context of community environments typical of the individual’s age peers
and culture
Assumption 2: Valid assessment considers cultural and linguistic diversity as
well as differences in communication, sensory, motor, and behavioural
factors
Assumption 3: Within an individual, limitations often coexist with strengths
Assumption 4: An important purpose of describing limitations is to develop
a profile of needed supports
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Assumption 5: With appropriate personalized supports over a sustained
period, the life functioning of the person with mental retardation generally
will improve
The measurement of adaptive behaviour has always been a challenge, not achieving
the desired precision despite significant and continuing research efforts
One perspective of a person with intellectual disabilities is a person who relies on
some protection and support from the family or community
Two factors come into play:
o The deficits or level of functioning of the individual with intellectual
disabilities
o The threshold of community tolerance
o Incidence and Prevalence
Two terms frequently have been confused in the field of intellectual disabilities
incidence and prevalence
Incidence refers to the number of new cases identified during a given time
period (often 1 year)
Prevalence refers to all cases existing at a given time, including both newly
identified cases and cases still labeled as having intellectual disabilities from
some earlier diagnosis
It is important to distinguish between incidence and prevalence and to consider
other factors such as socioeconomic status (SES), severity, and age when
determining how frequently intellectual disabilities occur
Those with a more mild disability represent by far the largest proportion of the
intellectual disabilities population
For intensity levels of supports are outlined in the following manner:
Intermittent the supports are provided as needed which is
characteristically periodic and for short duration
Limited Supports are provided more consistently, but they are not
typically intense
Extensive regular assistance, perhaps daily, is provided in some
environments such as work and is not limited
Pervasive supports are of high intensity, constant, and needed across
environments and may be life sustaining in nature
Research has indicated that the incidences of intellectual disabilities is highest
during the school years (5 to 18 years)
The prevalence of intellectual disabilities also varies a great deal as a function of age
Intellectual disabilities prevalence also varies across different levels of
Socioeconomic status
o Classification
Before the 1990s, the AAMR classification focused primarily on two major
parameters:
Severity of the disability
Causation or etiology
Four degrees of severity are employed, with a fifth category reflecting situations in
which the person’s intelligence is untestable
Mild intellectual disabilities
Moderate intellectual disabilities
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Document Summary

Historical perspectives: the concept of intellectual disabilities is continually influenced by economic, social, and political climates of various cultures throughout history. Disciplines and professions: disciplinary perspectives and contributions. In many ways people with intellectual disabilities are similar to the individuals without disabilities. During their lifetime those with intellectual disabilities will receive a broader range of professions than those who are not disabled. No single discipline has the breadth and depth of expertise and resources necessary to fully support people who have intellectual disabilities: terminology. The term intellectual disabilities is an encompassing one that includes a wide range of behaviour. Both a label of fact and a label of conjecture. The orientation of a discipline affects its view of people with intellectual disabilities. Physicians look for medical causes, psychologists seek psychological factors: contributions of biological and medical sciences etc. Medical professionals have long been involved with intellectual disabilities.

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