Primary school child, possible signs of Intellectual Disability

Sometimes young children may not be diagnosed with an Intellectual Disability(ID) until they enter the primary school years. This can occur for a number of reasons, however the possibility of a developmental disorder which may be an ID could become apparent during the primary years of schooling. Other developmental disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder could also be present and you might wish to investigate these. ID can occur as mild, moderate and severe.


Some of the signs for families and educators to be aware of as the child progresses through primary school are:

Signs of a mild intellectual disability:

  • The child is experiencing difficulties compared to their same age peers in academic skills;- reading, writing, mathematics
  • The child may be targeted by other students and could easily become bullied
  • The young child may require some assistance with personal care
  • Gross and fine motor skills could be underdeveloped

Signs of a moderate intellectual disability:

  • The young child will experience significantly limited progress compared to their same aged peers in reading, writing and mathematics
  • Decision making skills will be delayed and limited due to communication challenges
  • May experience difficulty in understanding and responding appropriately to social cues

Signs of a severe intellectual disability:

  • A formal academic curriculum in literacy and mathematics is unlikely to be of benefit for children with a severe intellectual disability
  • Spoken language is likely to be limited if it exists, may include only single words
  • The young child may demonstrate an understanding of speech and some gestures in communication exchanges
  • The young child will require assistance for all activities of daily living: eating, dressing, bathing, and toileting
  • For the young child, safety will be a concern and they will require constant supervision

It is important to remember that all children are unique and with the right supports in place for them, they can and will learn, it will just take a longer period of time for the skills and knowledge to be developed.

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