Intellectual Disability, communication and adolescents

The secondary years of schooling are typically where many teens with a learning disability face the most challenges. For the teen with an Intellectual Disability(ID) communication at secondary school becomes complex due to the increased number of students and teachers that the young person will need to interact with.


Typical expectations that a teacher will have of teenager in secondary school are that they will be able to:

  • Listen, focus and interpret information presented by a teacher, a peer or via technology for a minimum of 30 minutes
  • Present their own opinions, be able to debate topics and retell parts of a story or play
  • Write an essay and present an oral presentation to peers
  • Organise homework to meet due dates

Given the challenges that we know the teen with ID has with receptive and expressive language then these expectations need to be considered:

  • What reasonable adjustments can be put in place to assist the teen with work requirements?
  • What level of ID does the teen have and are these reasonable expectations for them?
  • Is the teen attending a regular high school with an alternative communication system?
  • How will this system be introduced to all teachers so that it is effective
  • Does the teen have an associated learning disability such as Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD) and if so what further levels of challenge does this place on the teen with ID and their communication capabilities.

All these questions should be discussion points at your planning meeting as these meetings continue into the secondary years.

During the secondary years of schooling this may also be a time when you may wish to review schooling options. Teenagers tend to become more focused on their personal learning pathways to future careers and employment and they begin to make choices about school, apprenticeships etc. If your teen is experiencing communication challenges a review of educational pathways could be considered.

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