Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is intellectual disability?

A: Intellectual disability affects the development of a child, starting before the age of 18 years, and continuing throughout life. It affects the brain and can affect physical disabilities too.

Intellectual disability results in children developing and learning slower than typical children of their age in two main areas.

  • Intellectual functioning: Their ability to think, learn, solve problems, reason and make sense of the world at the same level of others at their age,
  • Adaptive functioning: Their ability to learn behaviours and skills which help them to adapt to the needs of everyday living on the same level as others of their age.

Q: Are there different categories of intellectual disability?

A: Yes, intellectual disability can be divided into 4 categories. Mild, moderate, severe and profound intellectual disability. Mild intellectual disability is more common than more severe forms of intellectual disability.

Q: What is the incidence of intellectual disability in South Africa?

A: It has been established that as many as 4 out of every 100 South Africans are affected by some/level form of intellectual of intellectual disability

Q: Is intellectual disability preventable?

A: There are in some cases, ways to prevent intellectual disability. These can include not drinking alcohol or using drugs during pregnancy. Vaccinating children against diseases such as Rubella may prevent intellectual disability. Ensure that children have a safe play area at home or in the community so as to avoid trauma or injury.

When and how to get help? If you are worried about your child’s development seek help as soon as possible. Speak to a nurse or doctor for your child to be assessed or referred to a developmental clinic

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Download  the free information sheet  about intellectual disability (the information is available in English,Afrikaans & isiXhosa)

Myth: Intellectual disability is an illness.

FACT: Intellectual disability is NOT an illness. However, in some cases, the development of an intellectual disability may be due to the result of an illness.

Myth: Children with intellectual disabilities cannot learn.

FACT: Every child with an intellectual disability CAN and DOES learn irrespective of whether their disability is profound, severe, mild or moderate. Every child has the right to education and the right to be given the opportunity to reach their optimal learning potential.

Myth: An adult with intellectual disability cannot work.

FACT:  This is false. Many adults can work depending on their level of intellectual disability. Some adults can work in a supported employment environment.

Myth: Adults with intellectual disability are always interested in sex.

FACT: Adults with intellectual disability have the same sex drive as a person without a disability, but would benefit from positive sexuality education.

Myth: People with intellectual disability cannot get married and have children.

FACT: Some people with Intellectual disability can make an informed decision to get married and choose to have children.

Myth: Intellectual disability is contagious.

FACT: This is false, as intellectual disability is not spread by any type of contact.

Myth: At times, negative activities by parents can cause their children to have an intellectual disability.

FACT: Intellectual disability can affect ANYBODY:

Causes before birth: Genetic and other health conditions (e.g. Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome), problems of brain growth and development in the womb; exposure to poisons during pregnancy (alcohol and drugs); mother’s health during pregnancy (HIV, poor nutrition) –

  • Birth related causes: birth injuries, premature birth, lack of oxygen to the brain,
  • Childhood causes: head injury due to accidents, infections such as: meningitis, encephalitis and, in extreme cases, poor nutrition,
  • Significant lack of environmental stimulation and opportunities for learning skills.

Myth: Faith healers can cure intellectual disability.

FACT: There are perceptions that faith healers can cure intellectual disability. Based on current research this cannot be confirmed as research is still continuing. People with intellectual disability need to be supported to reach their optimal development in society.