Understanding Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

What are Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities?


Intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) are disorders that are usually present at birth and that uniquely affect the trajectory of an individual’s physical, intellectual, and/or emotional development. Many of these conditions affect multiple body parts or systems.


Intellectual disabilities can happen before a child turns 18. Many individuals have difficulty learning adaptive behaviours and daily living skills, such as communication, socialization, and personal hygiene. Physical challenges may involve walking, mobility, and speech.


Some children with intellectual disabilities can develop the skills they need to gain independence through professional support programs and targeted learning. Others may require one-on-one help at school or at home. As adults, many move into a group home environment, where they will continue to learn essential skills to enhance their independence and self-sufficiency.


Developmental disabilities encompass a broad group of challenges that can potentially impact learning, behaviour, and language development. Individuals with developmental disabilities may experience chronic cognitive or physical disabilities or both.


Examples of IDDs include Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, and more.


How IDDs affect the body parts/systems

Nervous system: These disorders affect how the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system function, which can affect intelligence and learning. Other issues associated with these conditions include behavioural problems, speech or language difficulties, seizures, and movement problems.


Sensory system: These disorders affect the senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) or how the brain processes or interprets the senses.


Metabolism: These disorders affect how the body uses food and other materials for energy and growth. Eg: how the body breaks down food during digestion is a metabolic process. Problems with these processes can upset the balance of materials available for the body to function properly. Too much of one thing or too little of another can disrupt overall body and brain functions.


Degenerative: Individuals with degenerative disorders may seem typical at birth and may meet developmental milestones for a time, but then they experience sudden disruptions in skills, abilities, and functions because of their condition. Sometimes, the disorder may not show until the child is an adolescent or adult and starts to show symptoms or lose abilities.


How to support a person living with an IDD 
Supporting someone with an IDD requires understanding that everyone’s needs are different. For example, a person with autism might have different needs than a person with Down syndrome.


Here are a few ways you can support a person living with an IDD:


1. Address the individual directly
2. Communicate naturally with facial expressions
3. Practice patience
4. Be aware of boundaries
5. Avoid being judgemental
6. Focus on the person instead of the disability
7. Never make assumptions
8. Respect the person’s choices and independence
9. Avoid using offensive language
10. Ask before you help


Community Living North Perth (CLNP) offers a wide range of support services to adults with disabilities to live meaningful lives. As a charitable organization, we champion and advocate for their inclusion and full citizenship in our communities. If you are looking for a support program for your loved one with a disability, you’ve come to the right place. Visit the Contact page to get in touch with us. We look forward to hearing from you!

Share this post

Scroll to Top