[Layout Image: No Content]
Gallaudet Univeristy
Decorative Graphic: No content.

Intellectual/Cognitive Disabilities

Our nation's special education law, the IDEA, defines mental retardation 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 Code of Federal Regulations §300.7(c)(6)]

The terms "developmental disability", "cognitive disability" and "intellectual disability" are also used. In 2006 the American Association on Mental Retardation changed the name of the organization to American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.  

The current diagnosis is considered:

  • IQ below 70
  • Significant limitations in two or more areas of adaptive behavior (see below)
  • Evidence of limitations become apparent in childhood

Educational Recommendations

Social and adaptive skills may be weak for children in this category. Development and practice of these skills should take place at home and in the educational setting. Examples of adaptive behavior skills include:

  • Communication (knowing the rules of conversation and expressing wants and needs effectively
  • Personal care skills (dressing, bathing, brushing teeth)
  • Personal health(expressing and understanding needs)
  • Personal safety within the community, school and home
  • Caring for a home (cleaning the house, setting the table, laundry, cooking, making the bed )
  • Social skills (rules for group interaction, games and communication)
  • Functional reading (labels and signs), Math (cost of the bus or to buy a drink), Writing (personal information or have ID card with contact information)
  • Development of work related skills (occupational awareness and skills for general work behavior and related to a specific task)

The web site by National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. (www.nichcy.org) provides tips for teachers and parents.

  • Build on the student's strengthens. Make learning a positive, successful experience.
  • Work with specialists in your support system (e.g., special educators). Use the resources listed below to find a support group. Check with other parents in your child's school or classroom for support
  • Use visual and hands on activities. Students learn faster by doing something instead of seeing it or reading about it. Break large tasks into small steps. Demonstrate the steps, one at a time, and then have student physically repeat each step alone. Assist student, as needed
  • Present immediate feedback.
  • Have the student interact with non-disabled peers when possible. This gives the student a role model of targeted behavior.
  • Parents, support personnel and others involved in the student's life should work as a group to assure uniform goals and learning which is to meet the designed individual student's needs

Parent participation is considered a major factor in the child's success. Behavior and educational instruction and programs should be reinforced in the home to maximize skills.

Mental Retardation and Deafness
The Gallaudet Research Institute (GRI) reported in 2005 that 2,902 of 37,500 students (7.7%) had some of Mental Retardation, although the degree was not defined in the parameters of the study. The report for 2006-2007 stated that 2849 students of 35,706 (8%) where reported in this area.

Guardino cites Naiman (1982) who evaluated a demonstration project to pinpoint curriculum and placement options or adolescents who are Deaf and have Developmental Delays. The program emphasis was that no two such students were alike and that each student needed individualized programming and assessment; educational placement was not in a "fixed" setting. Students were allowed to move between the vocational settings to regular classes for deaf students


Gallaudet Research Institute. (2005).Regional and national summary report of data from the 2004-2005 Annual Survey of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children and Youth

Guardino, C (2008) Identification and placement for deaf students with multiple disabilities: Choosing the path less followed. In American Annals of the Deaf (volume 153, No. 1) (pp55-64)

Naiman, D (1982). Educational programming for hearing impaired mentally retarded adolescents. In D. Tweedle and E. H. Shoyer (Eds.), The multihandicapped hearing impaired: Identification and instruction (pp148-161). Washington, DC: Gallaudet College.

The Arc of the United States
1010 Wayne Avenue, Suite 650
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Info@thearc.org E-mail
www.thearc.org Web
www.TheArcPub.com Web (Publications)
The Arc of the United States advocates for the rights and full participation of all children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Together with our network of members and affiliated chapters, we improve systems of supports and services; connect families; inspire communities and influence public policy

American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
(Formerly the American Association on Mental Retardation, AAMR)
444 North Capitol Street NW, Suite 846
Washington, DC 20001-1512
202.387.1968; 800.424.3688 (outside DC)
AAIDD promotes progressive policies, sound research, effective practices and universal human rights for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Division on Developmental Disabilities
The Council for Exceptional Children
1110 North Glebe Road, Suite 300
Arlington, VA 22201-5704
888.232.7733; 703.620.3660
cec@cec.sped.org E-mail
The mission of The Division on Developmental Disabilities (DDD), of Council for Exceptional Children is:

  • To enhance the competence of persons who work with individuals with cognitive disabilities/mental retardation, autism, and related disabilities.
  • To respond to and address emergent and critical issues in the field.
  • To advocate on behalf of individuals with developmental disabilities.
  • Expand and maintain a viable membership

NISH - Creating Employment Opportunities for People with Severe Disabilities National Office
8401 Old Courthouse Road
Vienna, Virginia 22182
fax: 703.849.8916
NISH is a national nonprofit agency whose mission is to create employment opportunities for people with severe disabilities by securing Federal contracts through the AbilityOne Program, formerly Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD), for its network of community-based, nonprofit agencies.

Providing employment opportunities to more than 40,000 people, the AbilityOne Program is the largest single source of employment for people who are blind or have other severe disabilities in the United States. More than 600 participating nonprofit organizations employ these individuals and provide quality goods and services to the Federal Government at a fair price.

TASH - Equity, Opportunity and Inclusion for People with Disabilities
1025 Vermont Avenue, NW 7th Floor
Washington, DC 20005
202-263-5600 (phone)
202-637-0138 (fax)
TASH is an international association of people with disabilities, their family members, other advocates, and professionals fighting for a society in which inclusion of all people in all aspects of society are the norm. TASH is an organization of members concerned with human dignity, civil rights, education, and independence for all individuals with disabilities. We have over thirty chapters and members from thirty-four different countries and territories.