Chapter 8 - The Elementary School Child with Intellectual Disabilities
For many parents, the challenges of intellectual disabilities first become a reality when their child enters school.
o A developmental of a year or maturational lag may have only appeared slight before, often because of the absence of
physical or health problems.
o The confrontation of academic and social demands may allow for the child to become compounded if proper
educational services and supports are not provided.
For children with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities, such as Down syndrome, it is more than likely that they have
already been diagnosed and in treatment for three years.
Since the 1970’s goals for public education have changed to incorporate the needs of children with intellectual disabilities:
o 1) Raise the functioning level of the child to the next highest developmental level regardless of the severity of the
o 2) Develop an adaptive fit between the student and the learning environment
Adaptive Fit: Compatibility between demands of a task or setting and a person’s needs and abilities.
For children with severe disabilities the emphasis is not on academic learning but on the development and application of skills
that increase independence with the school, home, and community (ex. self-help skills, mobility, and communication).
Piaget: 2-7years as the period of preoperational thought; 7-11years as the period of concrete operation.
Children with intellectual disabilities (ID) move through the same states of development as their peers but at a slower rate.
Children with mild ID may be delayed as long as 3-4 years.
Children with moderate ID may not reach the most basic stages of concrete operations until later adolescence.
Children with severe ID may fixate at the sensorimotor and preoperational stages and never reach the more advanced periods.
Children with IDs perform well below average on tasks of learning and retention when compared to peers without IDs.
o One of several factors can be attributed to the above fact. One includes the inability to focus on relevant stimuli in a
o Short-term Memory: The ability to recall material over a period of seconds or minutes.
Research results on short-term memory tasks are unclear: some say children with IDs perform similarly to
those without and others state that children with IDs are delayed.
All research agrees that children with IDs take longer to understand the nature of a task.
o Possible ways to enhance short-term memory in children with IDs:
Teach as often as possible in the setting where you want the behaviours to occur
Reduce extraneous environmental stimuli, which tend to distract students, and increase stimulus value of the
Present each component of stimuli clearly and with equivalent stimulus value initially
Begin with simpler tasks, moving to the more complex
For more see p228
o Information Processing Theories: How a person processes information from sensory stimuli to motor output.
This theory is the one most commonly used by cognitive psychologists to explain long-term memory.
Sternberg described the memory deficits of people with IDs as the underdevelopment of metacognitive
Such processes are used for problem solving, monitoring how well a strategy works once
implemented, and evaluating the results.
Researchers say children can be taught these processes.
o Self-Regulation: The ability to regulate one’s own behaviour.
To do this, one must be able to develop efficient learning strategies, such as the ability to rehearse a task. Many
rehearse to remember a certain task however research shows that people with IDs appear unable to apply this
o While seemingly unable to find, monitor, and evaluate the best strategy they can be taught to change their control
Distribution of Practice:
o Distributed practice in a learning situation enhances the learning performance of children with IDs
o Naturally Distributed Trials: Learning trials that may occur, as the skill would normally be performed in a natural
school or home routine.
May improve both acquisition of a skill and its generalization to another setting.
Learning Concrete and Abstract Concepts:
o Children with IDs are able to more easily grasp concrete vs. abstract concepts in learning situations.
Ex. the child will grasp the concept more readily if it’s a natural object vs. a picture of the object.
Ex. ride a bus vs. look at pictures. Learning Sets and Generalization:
o Both of these appear to be linked in the ability to solve problems
o Learning Set: The ability to learn how to learn.
o Generalization: The ability to apply learning from previous experience to new situations with similar components.
o Children with IDs develop learning sets at a slower rate than peers without IDs.
o The formation of learning sets can be facilitated in the classroom by providing successful learning experiences for the
child and moving sequentially from easy-to-hard content.
o See p230 for suggestions for working with the children with IDs who is having difficulty with generalization skills.
o Children with IDs will benefit from instruction in academic skill areas
o Reading is considered one of the weakest areas for these children, especially comprehension.
o Functional Reading: Reading that involves learning a protective or survival vocabulary.
A growing body of research suggests this is possible to develop for children with moderate to severe IDs as
The goals is for students to have enough of a sight word vocab to be able to scan printed materials and glean
the key information needed in a given activity.
o Children with IDs also have deficits in math.
Those with mild IDs can usually learn basic addition and subtraction.
Biggest issues in mathematical reasoning and problem-solving skills.
Arithmetic skills are taught most efficiently through the use of money concepts; practicality is a motivator.
Children with IDs will need to develop conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills (coping in school, interpersonal
relationships, language skills, and for taking care of personal needs)
Adaptive Skill Development: The ability (or lack thereof) to apply basic information learned in school to naturally occurring
Siperstein & Leffert (1997) showed that peers were more accepting of children with IDs when they had better social skills and
were not perceived as aggressive.
Children with IDs do not lack motivation as previously believed but can learn to become success strivers rather than failure
Learned Helplessness: The feeling that no matter what one does or how hard one tries he or she will not succeed.
o It is a very important learning experience for these children to be given multiple opportunities with high probabilities for
success so they can learn to strive.
Physical and Health Characteristics
o The vast majority of children with IDs do not differ from children without IDs in their physical appearance.
o A positive correlation does exist between severity of intellectual Deficit and extent of physical difference.
o Children with moderate to severe IDs are also usually associated with physiological factors and traced to biomedical
o Less motor development in children with IDs
o More instances of hearing and visual impairments as well as speech problems (articulation, voice and stuttering).
o Health problems may be either genetic or environmental factors.
o Down Syndrome: A condition resulting from a chromosomal abnormality that results in unique physical characteristics
and varying degrees of intellectual disabilities.
Higher likelihood of congenital heart defects and respiratory problems that are directly linked to their genetics.
o A significantly higher % of children with IDs come from low SES backgrounds. Those children who lack proper
nutrition and hygiene skills have a greater susceptibility to infections.
Educational Programs and Services
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
o A federal law mandating that all eligible children with disabilities in the nation’s schools be provided a first and
appropriate public education. IDEA requires that these students, regardless of the extent or type of disability, receive at
public expense the special education and related services necessary to meet their individual needs.
The major provisions of IDEA are multidisciplinary and nonbiased assessment, a free and appropriate public
education, the individualized education program (IEP), parental rights, and education in the least-restrictive
o Special Education: Specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, provided in all settings (such as in the
classroom, in physical education, at home, and in ho