Intellectual Disability

Definition of “Intellectual Disability” under IDEA

Until Rosa’s Law was signed into law by President Obama in October 2010, IDEA used the term “mental retardation” instead of “intellectual disability.” Rosa’s Law changed the term to be used in future to “intellectual disability.” The definition itself, however, did not change. Accordingly, “intellectual disability” is defined as…

“…significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.” [34 CFR §300.8(c)(6)].

The State of Ohio most recently utilized the term Cognitive Disability to identify this category.  It is anticipated that the term Cognitive Disability will be formally replaced with the Intellectual Disability when the current Operating Standards are revised.  The current definition is specified in §3301-51-01(B)(10)(d)(ii) as cited below:

(ii) “Cognitive disability” (mental retardation) means significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. This definition replaces the definition of mental retardation in 34 C.F.R. 300.8(c)(6) (October 13, 2006) and shall be used instead whenever the federal regulations at 34 C.F.R. Part 300 (October 13, 2006), state statutes at Chapter 3323. Of the Revised Code, or the state rules in Chapter 3301-51 of the Administrative Code refer to mental retardation or cognitive disability.

What is an Intellectual Disability?

Intellectual disability is a term used when a person has certain limitations in mental functioning and in skills such as communicating, taking care of him or herself, and social skills. These limitations will cause a child to learn and develop more slowly than a typical child.

Children with intellectual disabilities (sometimes called cognitive disabilities or mental retardation) may take longer to learn to speak, walk, and take care of their personal needs such as dressing or eating. They are likely to have difficulty learning in school. They will learn, but it will take them longer.

How are Intellectual Disabilities Identified?

Intellectual disabilities are diagnosed by looking at two main things. These are:

  • the ability of a person’s brain to learn, think, solve problems, and make sense of the world (called IQ or intellectual functioning); and
  • whether the person has the skills he or she needs to live independently (called adaptive behavior, or adaptive functioning).

Intellectual functioning, or IQ, is usually measured by a test called an IQ test. The average score is 100. People scoring below 70 to 75 are thought to have an intellectual disability. To measure adaptive behavior, professionals look at what a child can do in comparison to other children of his or her age. Certain skills are important to adaptive behavior. These are:

  • daily living skills, such as getting dressed, going to the bathroom, and feeding one’s self;
  • communication skills, such as understanding what is said and being able to answer;
  • social skills with peers, family members, adults, and others.

 To identify an intellectual disability, professionals look at the person’s mental abilities (IQ) and his or her adaptive skills. Both of these are highlighted in the definition of this disability within our nation’s special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA is the federal law that guides how early intervention and special education services are provided to infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities.

Additional Resources

Last Modified: 7/11/2013 4:46:11 PM