Is an Intellectual Disability the Same As a Learning Disability?

Intellectual Disability

If you know someone who is exhibiting signs of a disability, and you are confused by the available information, and unsure whether they may have an intellectual disability or a learning disability – then this article should help you understand. There is a lot of vague information in this specific area, and when you are interacting with someone with an intellectual or learning disability, it’s important to be aware and educated, so that you can be sure you are understanding and sensitive. This article details the recommended ways you can support someone with an intellectual disability, and the proper process of diagnosis for a parent who is determining whether their child has an intellectual or learning disability.

The Difference Between an Intellectual Disability and a Learning Disability

An intellectual disability is not the same as a learning disability, and these two terms have very different meanings. An intellectual disability refers to when someone has a developmental disorder such as autism, whereas a learning disability is referring to when someone has a learning disorder like dyslexia. One of the reasons that people get confused and ask “is an intellectual disability the same as a learning disability?” is because in the UK they call learning disabilities ‘learning difficulties’, and they call intellectual disabilities ‘learning disabilities’.

What Is An Intellectual Disability?

An intellectual disability is when someone has an IQ below 70 (the average IQ is 100), and they find daily living activities, social skills, and conceptual and practical skills difficult – these can include self-care, communicating with others, and participating in the community. These impairments develop before adulthood and can be caused by genetic conditions, issues during pregnancy, or environmental factors. Some examples of intellectual disabilities are autism, Down syndrome, and fragile X syndrome.

What Are The Four Levels Of Intellectual Disability?

Intellectual disabilities do not affect everyone the same, and some cases will be more serious than others.

There are four levels of intellectual disability:

  • Mild
  • Moderate
  • Severe
  • Profound

The severe and profound cases of intellectual disabilities are usually diagnosed as early as birth, but a mild intellectual disability will sometimes take longer because you may only find out when the child does not meet developmental goals.

Intellectual Disability

What Is A Learning Disability?

A learning disability refers to when someone has persistent struggles in specific areas – usually academic – such as reading, writing or maths. When someone has a learning disability, their brain has trouble processing certain types of information, such as remembering unrelated pieces of information or understanding the sounds in words. Dyslexia is an example of a common, well-known type of learning disability. To figure out whether a child is suffering from a learning disability, you must take into account their age and educational opportunities as well. It is essential that a parent does not simply decide that their child has a learning disability, as only a professional can diagnose it for sure.

Learning Disability

Signs that a child has a learning disability:

  • They might not like reading and try to avoid it
  • The child could have trouble spelling common, small words
  • Some find it difficult to notice sounds and syllables in words
  • A child could have lots of ideas but find it hard to write them down
  • They could have messy handwriting
  • The child could have low confidence with academic work

What Types Of Intellectual Disabilities Are Covered By NDIS?

Applying for funding is the only way to figure out whether your disability or your family member’s disability meets the requirements of the NDIS – but there are certain disabilities and levels of disability that are more likely to be approved. An intellectual disability that has been professionally diagnosed, and has been determined as moderate, severe or profound is most likely covered by NDIS funding.

The person has to have an IQ of 55 points or less, and severe difficulties with adaptive functioning. With autism, it has to be diagnosed by a multidisciplinary team who are experienced in assessing Pervasive Developmental Disorders, and it must be determined as severity level 2 or 3 by using the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) criteria.

What’s The Best Way To Support Someone With An Intellectual Disability?

When you are wondering how to support a person with an intellectual disability, it’s important to look at their situation specifically and what they require support with. Firstly, as a friend or family member, you should remember to treat the person the same way you would anyone else – talk to them directly and converse normally, and only change your voice or actions if they let you know that they need you to.
A caregiver may have to give support such as bathing, dressing, cooking, shopping, or even just providing emotional support – but these needs are different for each person. The best way to support someone with an intellectual disability is to determine what they need support with in order to live an enjoyable and independent life.

St Jude’s Can Provide Professional Support Services

Here at St Jude’s, we provide dedicated disability support services for people with or without NDIS funding, across Perth and the South West. We are experienced NDIS psychology providers, as well as offering home support, housing, support coordination, therapy, and a range of other services. If you need to find out if you qualify for NDIS Perth support, or you would like to find out more about our services, get in touch with our friendly team today.