Discovering your child may have an intellectual disability is a difficult reality to come to terms with. Immediate concerns center around the child’s upbringing, security, learning competencies and life development. Whatever the situation however, one fact will impact – your child will have special needs that must be addressed with empathy, care, and sensible planning.

A child with an Intellectual disability will invariably develop and learn more slowly than other children of the same age. Initially, they will need help with simple tasks for longer than the average child. As the child grows and reaches school-going age, extra effort has to be applied by parents to equip the child to find ways to cope.

How much support your child may need must be constantly evaluated against the ever changing scope of competency and need. In other words, you will need to know how much support your child will need to enable him or her to participate in normal interactions.

Handling your child with ID

Children with intellectual disability generally represent about 1% of the population. Of those affected, 85% have mild intellectual disability. This means they are slower than average to learn new information or skills – but with the right support, most will be able to live independently as adults.

If a child is made aware of being different with too much emphasis, the result could be lack of motivation or shyness. In addition there are a number of individual characteristics that can cause withdrawal. Psychological support is vital to instilling confidence and courage to join daily games and activities.

Distinguish general environments from personal environments. General environments refer to the settings and activities outside of the home – and it is important to climatise a child with ID to interact comfortably outside of the comfort zone of the home.

Patience must be applied in helping your child to engage with people in various situations – from a school environment to shopping, to the bank, to medical services. This is important to helping a child remain grounded in different environments, and primes them for coping with the wider world.

The range of limitations

A child with intellectual disability can and will learn new skills – but will take longer than other children, depending on the activity. There are varying degrees of intellectual disability, from mild to profound. Limitations operate in the following key areas:

  • Intellectual functioning. Also known as IQ, this refers to a person’s ability to learn, reason, make decisions, and solve problems.
  • Adaptive behaviors. These are skills necessary for day-to-day life, such as being able to take care of oneself: being able to feed and dress oneself; being able to communicate with and understand others; and how well a child may interact with family, friends, and other children of the same age.
  • IQ (intelligence quotient) is measured by an IQ test. The average IQ is 100, with the majority of people scoring between 85 and 115. A person is considered intellectually disabled if they have an IQ of less than 70 to 75.

Early signs of intellectual disability

There are many different signs of intellectual disability in children. Signs may appear during infancy, or they may not be noticeable until a child reaches school age. It often depends on the severity of the disability. Some of the most common signs of intellectual disability are:

  • Being slow to learn to roll over, sit up, crawl or walk
  • Talking late or having trouble with talking
  • Slow to master things like potty training, dressing, and feeding themselves
  • Difficulty remembering things
  • Inability to connect actions with consequences
  • Behaviour problems such as explosive tantrums
  • Difficulty with problem-solving or logical thinking

After a diagnosis of intellectual disability, it is important to assess a child’s particular strengths and weaknesses. This helps them determine how much and what kind of support the child will need to succeed at home, in school, and in the community.

Early intervention is important in not only helping the child to develop, but also in preparing the parents for their role in individualised intervention programmes and service plans. Professionals will work with parents to outline the child’s needs and to ascertain which services will be helpful and supportive, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, family counselling, or nutrition services.

It is also important to outline the child’s needs at school, ensuring that the school can effect the adaptations and modifications that will allow a child with an intellectual disability to succeed in the classroom.

Steps to help your intellectually disabled child include:

  • Learning everything you can about intellectual disabilities. The more you understand, the more you will be able to assist your child.
  • Don’t be afraid to let your child try new things and encourage your child to do things by themselves. Be sure to give positive feedback when your child does something well or masters something new.
  • Get your child involved in group activities. This will help your child to develop social skills.
  • Get to know other parents with ID children.

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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