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What are the different levels of intellectual disability that can occur in children and adults?

In preschool-age children (up to 5 years old), intellectual disability is classified at one of the following levels:

  • The child can develop social and communication skills. There is minimal retardation in sensorimotor areas.
  • The child can talk or learn to communicate but has poor social awareness and fair motor development. The child benefits from self-help training and can be managed with moderate supervision.
  • The child has poor motor development with minimal speech and little or no communication skills. The child is generally unable to benefit from self-help training.
  • The child has minimal capacity for functioning in sensorimotor areas, and requires nursing care, constant aid, and supervision.

In school-age children (6 to 20 years), intellectual disability or learning disability is classified at one of the following levels:

  • The child can learn academic skills up to approximately sixth-grade level by the late teens, and can be guided toward social conformity.
  • The child is unlikely to progress beyond second-grade level in school. The child can benefit from training in social and occupational skills, and may learn to travel alone in familiar places.
  • The child can talk or learn to communicate, can be trained in basic health habits and other functional habits. The child is unable to benefit from vocational training.
  • The child has some motor development and may respond to minimal or limited self-help training.

In adults (21 years and above), an intellectual disability is classified at one of the following levels:

  • The individual can usually achieve social and vocational skills for minimal self-support but may need guidance and assistance when under unusual social or economic stress.
  • The individual may achieve self-maintenance in unskilled or semiskilled work under sheltered conditions but requires supervision and guidance when under mild social or economic stress.
  • The individual may contribute partially to self-maintenance under complete supervision and can develop self-protection skills to a minimal useful level in a controlled environment.
  • The individual may have some motor and speech development and may achieve very limited self-care but requires nursing care.

Mental Health Library Sources:

Information included in all topics of the Mental Health Library comes from the Desk Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria From DSM-5 and Kaplan & Sadock’s Concise Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry. Complete diagnostic and treatment information may be found within these publications.


Information within the Mental Health Library is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis purposes. Rather, it is provided as a public educational service to make people aware of mental health conditions. Please consult a qualified mental health professional for a diagnosis of any suspected mental health illness.

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