Questions & Answers (Q&A)


Intellectual Disability




Q.What is *intellectual disability*?

A. Intellectual disability involves a greater than average difficulty in learning. A person is considered to have an intellectual disability when the following factors are present: general intellectual functioning is significantly below average; significant deficits exist in adaptive skills and the condition is present from childhood (eighteen years or less). [*The term intellectual disability is recognised in international research circles and is used by the Department of Health & Children. The term 'learning disability' is frequently used in a UK context. . 

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Q. How many people are affected by intellectual disability in Ireland?

643,131 persons with a disability in April 2016 (13.5% of the population) (595,335 or 13% in 2011)

 Of these 311,580 (48%) were male while 331,551 (52%) were female (289,728 or 48.7% males and 305,607 or 51.3% female in 2011)

 66,611 people (1.4% of general population and 10.3% of disabled population) had an intellectual disability in 2016 (57,709 people or 1.3 per cent of the population/9.7% of the disabled population in 2011)

 Census 2016: Prevalence of disability in Meath -14%; Cork City – 18%

The National Intellectual Disability Database (NIDD) gathers figures for those people in receipt of a health service. 

 28, 388 people with an intellectual disability registered on the NIDD in 2017 (up from 28,275 in 2016)
 59% male and 41% female (no change 2015, 2016 or 2017)

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Q. How is intellectual disability diagnosed?

A. The signs of intellectual disability are often evident by a child’s first or second year. However, for some children diagnosed later as having a mild  intellectual disability, the signs may not come to light until their school years when they have been formally tested. Children with intellectual disability may be slower ro reach developmental milestones such as sitting up, smiling, walking and talking. They may demonstrate less interest in the environment and in responsiveness to others.

By the time a child reaches the age of two or three, intellectual disability can often be determined using physical and psychological tests. Testing is important at this stage if a child shows signs of developmental delay. Alternative causes such as impaired hearing may be found and treated. Diagnosis is highly dependent on a comprehensive personal and family medical history, a complete physical examination and a careful developmental assessment of the child.

An assessment of needs process is in place to formally assess a child for a disability. 

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