Intellectual Disability vs. Mental Retardation

If one wants to understand an intellectually disabled individual, or someone with an IQ below 70 and additionally with a limitation in adaptive behaviour, then it’s important to first understand what Intellectual Disability actually is. The green band awareness for Intellectual Disability is important for removing the major stigma existing in society.

Intellectual Disability
Source: Dickinson Centre, Inc.

What is An Intellectual Disability (ID)?

For almost a decade, it was known as ‘mental retardation’, but being a politically incorrect and negative term, it was changed to intellectual disability. However, the term ‘mental retardation’ is still used in the ICD-10 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems).

The campaign ‘Spread the Word to End the Word’ seeks to abolish the usage of the word ‘retarded’ since it can be very hurtful to a person with an Intellectual Disability.

The children with this condition find it hard to learn new things. As a result, they may face difficulties in communicating, in putting their opinions out in public and, in making decisions. Things get worse for them because this is a repetitive behaviour. They hardly adapt to new changes. They may also find themselves much behind the general, in social and mental skills. This happens because of a below average IQ level.

The average IQ level is 100. However, a person with ID has an IQ under 70.

Although, ID is not just about the IQ level but is also associated with certain issues in adaptive behaviour. In short, it limits an individual’s intellectual functioning and adaptive behaviour.

Intellectual Disability
Source: Aegyo Kawaii’s Neurodiversity Blog

Intellectual functioning includes skills of problem-solving, decision-making, and the ability to learn. Adaptive behaviour, on the other hand, includes necessary skills needed to cope with daily life challenges such as communication and general decision making.


The symptoms start showing before the age of 18.

Intellectual Disability
Source: Wire and Honey

This disorder is further subdivided into syndromic and non-syndromic intellectual disability.

Syndromic intellectual disability

Syndromic intellectual disability occurs in the presence of other medical and behavior illness along with ID, such as, down syndrome, mood disorders, vision problems, and many others.

Non-syndromic intellectual disability

In this type, there are no other abnormalities except the signs of intellectual deficits. To be more precise, due to some disturbances in the working of the central nervous system, a child’s brain does not develop properly. Therefore, such children have a low IQ level. Consequently,  it sets a limitation in the ability of a person to perform daily life tasks.


There are certain manuals that test intellectual level and adaptive functions and help diagnose this condition. These use an IQ test to check the intellectual level of a child, and further interview teachers, caregivers, and other related persons to know about the child’s social life.

The IQ test includes-

– reasoning solving ability
– problem-solving skills
– abstract thinking
– judgment approach
– academic abilities
– experiential learning

Professionals also check the health history of the patient’s family. ID can also occur because of a pre-existing health issue. Therefore, they also check for any such possibilities. They also examine:

– possible genetic and neurological issues.

– academic performance.

– social and behavioural observations of the child in natural environments.


– A study shows men with ID die 13 years younger than men without ID.

– The similar study also said women with ID die 20 years younger than women without it.

A new survey shows that unemployment among people with intellectual disabilities is more than twice as high as for the general population.

– Another study found that 56% of the medical students in the US reported that graduates do not have the necessary ability or knowledge to treat people with intellectual disabilities.

– Almost 85% people with ID have a mild form of it.

– Almost about 6.5 million people in the United States have an ID.
1-3% of the global population has ID.


Intellectual Disability
Source: Special Olympics


Edited by: Preetika Dubey


Born In July Of 1998. I am an Ex-student of MP Birla Institute of Fundamental Research. Studied Astrophysics & Astronomy. With The Love For Science And Hobby of Writing, I Am Trying To Create Awareness Of Every Possible Health Issue.

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