Intellectual Disability: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of intellectual disability, formerly known as mental retardation, and how to seek early intervention for proper support.

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Intellectual Disability - What Is It?

Intellectual disability, formerly known as mental retardation,  is a developmental disorder affecting two basic mental abilities of a person which include:

  • Intellectual function - refers to the overall learning, problem solving, and judgment of a person.
  • Adaptive function - which refers to the real life and practical skills of a person such as social skills, awareness around his/her surroundings, and sensory processing.

Although they lack adaptive and intellectual function, people who have this condition can still learn and communicate normally. It may only take them a long while to learn how, but it is possible.

Intellectual disability has varying degrees, ranging from mild to profound. Diagnosis of this condition is usually done by testing the intelligence or cognition which is assessed through Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test.

What Causes Intellectual Disability?

Intellectual disability can be caused by a variety of reasons, but is commonly associated with genetics. However, the actual cause of this condition can only be identified about a third of the time.

Below are some of the most common causes of intellectual disability:

  1. Genetic Disorders:

    • Certain genetic disorders such as Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, and Prader-Willi syndrome can cause intellectual disability.

  2. Brain Damage:

    • Traumatic brain injury, lack of oxygen at birth, and infections like meningitis and encephalitis can lead to intellectual disability.

  3. Prenatal Exposure:

    • Exposure to drugs, alcohol, and other toxic substances during pregnancy.

  4. Malnutrition:

    • Lack of proper nutrition during pregnancy and childhood can affect brain development.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Intellectual Disability?

The symptoms of intellectual disability vary depending on the degree of the severity of impairment. Some of the early and recognizable signs of intellectual disability are:

  1. Difficulty in Learning:

    • Children may have difficulty learning new things, understanding concepts, and solving problems.

  2. Communication Problems:

    • They may have trouble communicating their needs, thoughts, and feelings effectively.

  3. Social Skill Deficits:

    • People with intellectual disabilities may struggle to form and maintain social relationships, have difficulty understanding social cues, and exhibit inappropriate behaviors in social situations.

  4. Daily Living Challenges:

    • They may have difficulties performing daily living tasks like eating, dressing, and personal hygiene.

  5. Behavioral Issues:

    • Some people with intellectual disabilities may have behavioral problems like impulsivity, aggression, and self-injurious behaviors.


Available Treatments for People Who Have Intellectual Disability

While intellectual disability is considered as a life-long condition, early intervention and continuous treatment can help improve the intellectual function of a person suffering from this. 

Treatment for this condition is usually case-to-case basis depending on the specific need of the patient and what s/he lacks at. 

Some of the available treatment and support methods include:

  1. Educational Support:

    • Special education programs and individualized instruction can help individuals improve their academic and functional skills.

  2. Behavioral Therapy:

    • Behavioral therapy can help individuals develop social skills, communication skills, and positive behaviors.

  3. Medications:

    • Medications can be used to treat co-occurring conditions like anxiety, depression, and ADHD.

  4. Supportive Services:

    • Supportive services like occupational therapy, speech therapy, and vocational training can help individuals improve their daily living skills and employment opportunities.


Intellectual disability is a complex condition that requires a comprehensive approach to diagnosis and treatment. With proper support and interventions, people can lead fulfilling lives and achieve their full potential. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms, seek professional help for early intervention and treatment.

At the Serin Center, we have treatment programs for intellectual disability that would support and improve the overall mental process and capacity of a person. This, however, depends on the degree of impairment or developmental disability an individual has.


Discover about our neurohealth center’s proven and effective therapy program for mental and emotional wellness. We have advanced and innovative treatment programs that enhance and improve the lives of our patients. From kids, adolescents to adults, our program has been proven to be effective. 

Book an appointment to any of our offices in Peoria and Scottsdale, AZ, and learn more about our holistic approach for intellectual disability. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our neuropsychologists.