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  • About Intellectual Disabilities

    Children and adults with intellectual disabilities inspire us every day at Special Olympics events around the world. But what are intellectual disabilities?

What Is an Intellectual Disability?

Intellectual disability (ID) is a term used to describe a person with certain limitations in cognitive functioning and other skills, including communication and self-care. These limitations can cause a child to develop and learn more slowly or differently. Intellectual disability is the most common developmental disability. Learn more.

Some examples are below:

Fragile X Syndrome

Fragile X is a genetic condition that affects a person’s development, especially behavior and the ability to learn. In addition, Fragile X can affect communication skills, physical appearance and sensitivity to noise, light, or similar stimulus. Fragile X is the most common form of inherited intellectual and developmental disability. 

Down Syndrome

Down syndrome describes a set of cognitive and physical symptoms that result from having an extra copy or part of a copy of chromosome 21. Down syndrome is the most frequent chromosomal cause of mild to moderate intellectual disability, and occurs in all ethnic and economic groups.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorder (known as ASD or, more generally, autism) is a complex neurological and developmental condition that affects how a person learns, communicates and interacts with others. Different people with autism can have different symptoms, which is why it's known as a "spectrum" disorder. Autism affects the structure and function of the brain and nervous system.

Other Intellectual Disabilities

There are many other types of intellectual disabilities -- most have known causes, while others remain unknown. Some happen before birth, such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Apert Syndrome; others happen as a baby is being born or soon after birth. Other causes of intellectual disability occur when a child is older; these might include serious head injury, stroke, or certain infections.