The Great Evolution of Intellectual Disability

The Great Evolution of Intellectual Disability

The Great Evolution of Intellectual Disability

by KAT

Intellectual disability (ID), once known as “mental retardation,” describes a set of intellectual impairments appearing before adulthood that impact the learning abilities and adaptive life skills of an individual, such as the ability to get dressed, communicate effectively, or interpret humor. While the exact number of people living with intellectual disabilities seems ever-changing and is thus hard to pin down, it is estimated that between 4.6 and 6.5 million Americans are affected by some form of intellectual disability and approximately 1.5%-2.5% of the world’s population is currently living with an intellectual disability.

The causes for about a third of intellectual disabilities remain unknown. Some of the understood causes of ID are: (1) genetic problems that occur as a result of chromosomal issues affecting the structure or number of chromosomes, such as in incidences of Down’s syndrome, (2) problems during pregnancy that occur during cellular divisions or as the fetus develops in utero, (3) inadequate oxygen levels during delivery, (4) chronic health conditions like whooping cough, measles, and meningitis, (5) environmental issues like exposure to lead, mercury, or other toxins, and (6) health concerns like fetal alcohol syndrome, maternal sexually transmitted disease (STD) infections, inadequate or absent prenatal care, and malnutrition (1).

New research being conducted at Brown University also suggests that one form of intellectual disability, autism, may be linked to heredity. According to the study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, “there may be a recessive inherited genetic trait linked to cases of autism where significant impairment is present.” (2)

Intellectual disabilities are diagnosed by examining two specific areas: intellectual function and adaptive behaviors compared to individuals of similar ages. Children diagnosed with intellectual disability generally show symptoms of impairment before the age of 3 by failing to demonstrate appropriate developmental or social milestone behaviors. While it is not uncommon for some children to develop at different rates than their peers, most eventually catch up. In children with intellectual disabilities, the slow rate of development does not resolve itself within a reasonable amount of time and usually persists into adulthood.

On the surface, intellectual disability and mental illness may appear similar, but they are two distinct medical conditions. Intellectual disability refers to a lifelong impairment of cognitive functioning and thinking that typically appears before adulthood, and cannot be resolved through medication. In contrast, mental illness can appear at any point during an individual’s life, may be temporary, or marked by episodes of mental incapacitation, and is a condition that is treatable with prescription medication.

How We Got Here

At the beginning of the 20th century, as the U.S. labor force underwent significant changes in the skills necessary to earn a living, intelligence became a commodity and the adaptation of IQ testing took precedence as the primary tool to broadly assess individual capabilities. In the critical effort to replace a workforce formerly dominated by physical labor, cognitive abilities were used to help identify and classify military personnel during World War I, to identify individuals with intellectual disabilities, and to determine qualified job applicants. Similar to modern intelligence assessments, early IQ testing prompted much controversy because of its stealthy focus on intellectual capacity in relationship to individual value. Furthermore, it gave license to discriminate and supported national policies that marginalized and dehumanized the disabled and people of color – which continued to influence contemporary culture. With the objective to eliminate intellectual disabilities, 16 U.S. states passed laws authorizing the sterilization of people diagnosed as having them. In addition, immigration legislation was passed to authorize the use of intelligence testing as part of U.S. naturalization and immigration policies – discriminating against immigrants from various countries around the world in order to protect “American standards of intelligence.”

Click To See Full Article