Intellectual disabilities encompass a range of conditions affecting cognitive functioning and adaptive skills, and it follows that those with intellectual disability will invariably need attentive additional support at different life stages to navigate the world safely.

Taking care of an intellectually disabled individual at any age requires particular focus and vigilance. Safety and protection always remains top of mind, as along their life journey they will undoubtedly face unique challenges that will require specialised security measures.

These measures must be holistic in approach, and capable of addressing a variety of needs at various stages of life. Through these measures, society must create inclusive and secure environments that promote the overall safety, wellbeing and independence of intellectually disabled individuals throughout their lives.

Early childhood

  • The home environment can be enemy number one. Implementing childproof measures such as safety gates, cabinet locks, and outlet covers to create a secure living space, backed by constant adult supervision to prevent accidents and ensure the child’s safety, is paramount.
  • A good, early route to take is the use of identification bracelets that provide a child with a way of always carrying essential information on their person in case they wander or get lost. Some children may also require simplified communication devices or methods to help them express any basic needs and concerns.
  • Education becomes an important area that must be equipped and prepared to manage any specific needs of the intellectually disabled child. Caregivers, teachers, and childcare providers are trained in handling these specific needs, together with any emergency situation that may arise. A key factor must be that all support systems encompass inclusive educational environments that accommodate diverse learning styles


  • A key educational imperative remains the implementation of programmes that teach essential life skills, including personal safety, navigation, and self-advocacy. Socialisation through structured social activities encouraging interaction with peers and the community are vital at this stage.
  • Communication becomes an important developmental focus at this age, and can include advanced communication devices that will assist with expression and interaction. Today mobile apps can aid in location tracking, emergency communication, and interaction with caregivers.
  • A key safety measure at this point is the application of awareness programmes to educate the public about the unique needs and challenges faced by intellectually disabled individuals. Safe integration into society is assisted by buddy systems or peer support networks that will enhance progress and security.


  • To aid independence, the development of housing options with trained staff to assist with daily living activities has been a major step forward in recent years. In addition, the provision of vocational training programmes has proved essential to enhancing self-confidence, employment opportunities and financial independence.
  • Developing guardianship plans or legal arrangements to protect the rights and interests of intellectually disabled adults is a major imperative. Advocating for and enforcing anti-discrimination laws to safeguard their rights in employment and public services is crucial for safety and protection.
  • A sense of community assists an intellectually disabled individual to identify and feel that they belong. This can include recreational programmes that promote community engagement and social interaction. In tandem with this, there should be accessible public transportation options to facilitate independent mobility.

The elderly

  • Healthcare services should be designed to understand and accommodate the unique needs of intellectually disabled elderly individuals, including in their services regular health assessments to address any age-related or cognitive decline issues.
  • Living spaces should be modified with age-appropriate adaptations to facilitate aging in place, with easy to operate personal emergency response systems to provide immediate assistance in case of emergencies.
  • End-of-Life planning should include the application of Advance Directives –  collaborating with family members and healthcare professionals to establish clear advance directives that align with the individual’s preferences and values. Caregivers and healthcare providers at this stage should receive specialised training in providing sensitive and dignified care to intellectually disabled individuals at the end of their lives.

The story of Sunfield Home

Twenty years ago, Chris and Lynne Bennett, parents of a young girl with Down Syndrome, pursued their dream of establishing a home for their daughter and other intellectually disabled young adults in the Western Cape. Together with other parents, they founded the Sunfield Home in Wellington, providing a loving and nurturing environment for over 100 residents and day-care adult individuals.

Each individual is screened to evaluate their strengths and allocate activities according to their abilities. A protective workshop has been established where contract work is undertaken, as well as arts and crafts activities. An employment scheme has also been developed and as a result permanent and successful positions have been found within the surrounding wine and cheese industries.

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