Independence and Intellectual Disability

The earlier we begin to require a young child with Intellectual Disability(ID) to develop independence with personal skills the better they will be prepared for the future. There will be times when it is just easier and more time efficient for the adult to do tasks on behalf of the child but we need to remember that the young child with ID is going to take longer to learn skills and to master them.


If you involve your child in the activities with you and then gradually ease your support away, you are setting them up to function as independently as possible. Many children with ID also have difficulty with what are calledmotor skills ’, the use of muscles to perform and specific act and therefore, they are going to need a greater period of time to master these skills.

What are referred to as ‘developmental skills’, can be taught and developed at home in readiness for the future and to help get your child ready for the school years. Some skills to encourage at home:

  • Use both a straw and cup to drink from- sucking from beaker cup then a straw, holding a cup steadily with two hands and pouring to drink, regulating mouthfuls
  • Use a spoon, fork, chopsticks to feed themselves- identify your child’s dominant hand, use hand over hand to teach loading of the fork, spoon, chopsticks with solids before moving to more sloppy or liquid foods
  • Use the toilet by themselves or with minimal help- commence with timed toilet training and then questioning to prompt self-initiation “I want toilet” or show an object, photo, symbol or use sign language to represent the toilet
  • Dress themselves- commence with basic help assisting your child to step into underwear and hand over hand to pull up, continue with other clothing items to get dressed
  • Name or correctly label objects- during daily activities take naturally occurring incidents to label, toast, cup, ball, shoes etc. Use oral language or object, photo, symbol or use sign language depending upon your child’s level of ID
  • Introduce numbers and letters- during daily activities take naturally occurring incidents again, pointing at and saying ‘a’ for apple, ‘b’ for boy, counting blocks 1, 2, 3 and so on
  • Use technology with your child- when a technology device is turned on teach your child the skills to interact with a game, looking at the screen, swiping the screen, clicking a mouse. A technology device may also be recommended as a communication tool.
  • Introduce the need to follow rules- when playing a game teach taking a turn and encourage ‘wait’ time to improve ability to interact with others.

All the above skills can be taught naturally during daily events with your child. It is going to take longer for your child to develop some of these skills and others will develop more readily. Remember the time spent in the early training of these developmental skills will have long term benefits.

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