How Mild Intellectual Disability Is Defined

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Editors Note: Since this article was originally written, mental retardation as a diagnosis has been replaced with an intellectual or cognitive disability. Since the term "retard" made its way into the lexicon of the schoolyard bully, retardation has also become offensive. Retardation did remain as part of the diagnostic vocabulary until the publication of the DSM V.

What Is Mild Intellectual Disability (MID)?

MID is also referred to as Mild Mental Retardation (see Editor's Note above). Many of the characteristics of MID correspond to those of Learning Disabilities. The intellectual development will be slow, however, MID students have the potential to learn within the regular classroom given appropriate modifications and/or accommodations. Some MID students will require greater support and/or withdrawal than others will. MID students, like all students, demonstrate their own strengths and weaknesses. Depending on the educational jurisdiction, criteria for MID will often state that the child is functioning approximately 2-4 years behind or 2-3 standard deviations below the norm or have an IQ under 70-75. An intellectual disability may vary from mild to profound.

How Are MID Students Identified?

Depending on the education jurisdiction, testing for MID will vary. Generally, a combination of assessment methods is used to identify mild intellectual disabilities. Methods may or may not include IQ scores or percentiles, adaptive skills cognitive tests in various areas, skills-based assessments, and levels of academic achievement. Some jurisdictions will not use the term MID but will use mild mental retardation (see Editor's Note above).

Academic Implications of MID

Students with MID may demonstrate some, all or a combination of the following characteristics:

  • 2 to 4 years behind in cognitive development which could include math, language, short attention spans, memory difficulties and delays in speech development.
  • Social relationships are often impacted. The MID child may exhibit behavior problems, be immature, display some obsessive/compulsive behaviors and lack the understanding of verbal/nonverbal clues and will often have difficulty following rules and routines.
  • Adaptive skills, everyday skills for functioning, may be compromised. These children may be clumsy, use simple language with short sentences, have minimal organization skills and will need reminders about hygiene, such as washing hands, brushing teeth (life skills), etc.
  • Weak confidence is often demonstrated by MID students. These students are easily frustrated and require opportunities to improve their self-esteem. Lots of support will be needed to ensure they try new things and take risks in learning.
  • Concrete to abstract thought is often missing or significantly delayed. This includes the lacking ability to understand the difference between figurative and literal language.

Best Practices

  • Use simple, short, uncomplicated sentences to ensure maximum understanding.
  • Repeat instructions or directions frequently and ask the student if further clarification is necessary.
  • Keep distractions and transitions to a minimum.
  • Teach specific skills whenever necessary.
  • Provide an encouraging, supportive learning environment that will capitalize on student success and self-esteem.
  • Use appropriate program interventions in all areas where necessary to maximize success.
  • Use alternative instructional strategies and alternative assessment methods.
  • Help the MID student develop appropriate social skills to support friendships and peer relationships.
  • Teach organizational skills.
  • Use behavior contracts, and reinforce positive behavior if necessary.
  • Ensure that your routines and rules are consistent. Keep conversations as normal as possible to maximize inclusion with peers. Teach the difference between literal/figurative language.
  • Be patient! Assist with coping strategies.
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Watson, Sue. "How Mild Intellectual Disability Is Defined." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Watson, Sue. (2021, February 16). How Mild Intellectual Disability Is Defined. Retrieved from Watson, Sue. "How Mild Intellectual Disability Is Defined." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 7, 2021).