Family and Intellectual Disability A family typically consists of people who consider themselves as part of the family and who are closely involved in the day-to-day affairs of the household (Brown, et al., FQOLS-2006; Poston et al., 2003) Following are some general strategies for working with learners with an intellectual disability. the age of the child and what are the agreed priorities or learning goals for that child. If the student is in a mainstream setting following the curriculum of the class will be the basis for their program.
Noah felt like he was always hitting the books. While his friends were meeting for pickup soccer games after school, he was back home in his room reading and rereading the same material. But no matter how hard Noah studied, he had difficulty remembering things and his grades stayed average.
Meanwhile, his friend Sean, who never seemed to study, always aced tests. It didn't seem fair. Because Noah was so frustrated, his dad and teachers made an appointment with the school psychologist.
She diagnosed Noah with a learning disability. Although Noah felt relieved to know what was going on, he was also worried. He didn't like the "disability" label. And he was concerned about what it might mean for his future.
Would he be able to go to college and study engineering as he'd hoped? What Are Learning Disabilities? For someone diagnosed with a learning disability, it can seem scary at first.
But a learning disability doesn't have anything to do with a person's intelligence — after all, successful people such as Walt Disney, Alexander Graham Bell, and Winston Churchill all had learning disabilities. Learning disabilities are problems that affect the brain's ability to receive, process, analyze, or store information.
These problems can make it difficult for a student to learn as quickly as someone who isn't affected by learning disabilities. There are many kinds of learning disabilities. Most students affected by them have more than one kind. Certain kinds of learning disabilities can interfere with a person's ability to concentrate or focus and can cause someone's mind to wander too much.
Other learning disabilities can make it difficult for a student to read, write, spell, or solve math problems. The way our brains process information is extremely complex — it's no wonder things can get messed up sometimes. Take the simple act of looking at a picture, for example: Our brains not only have to form the lines into an image, they also have to recognize what the image stands for, relate that image to other facts stored in our memories, and then store this new information.
It's the same thing with speech — we have to recognize the words, interpret their meaning, and figure out the significance of the statement to us. Many of these activities take place in separate parts of the brain, and it's up to our minds to link them all together. If, like Noah, you've been diagnosed with a learning disability, you're not alone.
Nearly 4 million school-age kids and teens have learning disabilities, and at least 20% of them have a type of disorder that makes it difficult to focus. What Are the Signs of Learning Disabilities? You can't tell by looking that a person has a learning disability, which can make learning disabilities hard to diagnose. Learning disabilities usually first show up when a person has difficulty speaking, reading, writing, figuring out a math problem, communicating with a parent, or paying attention in class.
Some kids' learning disabilities are diagnosed in grade school when a parent or a teacher notices the kid can't follow directions for a game or is struggling to do work he or she should be able to do easily.
But other kids develop sophisticated ways of covering up their learning issues, so the problem doesn't get addressed until the teen years when schoolwork — and life — gets more complicated. Most learning disabilities fall into one of two categories: verbal and nonverbal. People with verbal learning disabilities have difficulty with words, both spoken and written. The most common and best-known verbal learning disability is , which causes people to have trouble recognizing or processing letters and the sounds associated with them.
For this reason, someone with dyslexia will have trouble with reading and writing tasks or assignments. Some people with verbal learning disabilities may be able to read or write just fine but struggle with other aspects of language. For example, they may be able to sound out a sentence or paragraph perfectly, making them good readers, but they can't relate to the words in ways that will allow them to make sense of what they're reading (such as forming a picture of a thing or situation).
And some people have trouble with the act of writing as their brains struggle to control the many things that go into it — from moving their hand to form letter shapes to remembering the correct grammar rules involved in writing down a sentence. People with nonverbal learning disabilities may have difficulty processing what they see.
They may have trouble making sense of visual details like numbers on a blackboard. Someone with a nonverbal learning disability may confuse the plus sign with the sign for division, for example.
Some abstract concepts like fractions may be difficult to master for people with nonverbal learning disabilities. The behavioral condition is often associated with learning disabilities because people with ADHD also might have a hard time focusing enough to learn and study.
Students with ADHD are often easily distracted and have trouble concentrating. They may also be excessively active or have trouble controlling their impulses. What Causes Them? No one's exactly sure what causes learning disabilities. But researchers do have some theories as to why they develop, including: • Genetic influences. Experts have noticed that learning disabilities tend to run in families and they think that heredity could play a role.
However, researchers are still debating whether learning disabilities are, in fact, genetic, or if they show up in families because kids learn and model what their parents do. • Brain development. Some experts think that learning disabilities can be traced to brain development, both before and after birth. For this reason, problems such as low birth weight, lack of oxygen, or premature birth may have something to do with learning disabilities.
Young children who receive head injuries may also be at risk of developing learning disabilities. • Environmental impacts. Infants and young kids are susceptible to environmental toxins (poisons). For example, you may have heard how lead (which can be found in some old homes in the form of lead paint or lead water pipes) is sometimes thought to contribute to learning disabilities. Poor nutrition early in life also may lead to learning disabilities later in life.
How Do You Know It's a Learning Disability? Just because you have trouble studying for a test doesn't mean you have a learning disability. There are as many learning styles as there are individuals. For example, some people learn by doing and practicing, while others learn by listening (such as in class) or prefer to read material.
Some people are just naturally slower readers or learners than others, but they still perform well for their age and abilities. Sometimes, what seems to be a learning disability is simply a delay in development; the person will eventually catch up with — and perhaps even surpass — his or her peers.
But many people with learning disabilities struggle for a long time before someone realizes that there's a reason they're having so much trouble learning. For most people in their teen years, the first telltale sign of most learning disabilities occurs when they notice that there's a disconnect between how much they studied for a test and how well they performed.
Or it may just be the feeling a person has that something isn't right. If you're worried, don't hesitate to share your thoughts with a parent or a teacher. The first step in diagnosing a learning disability is ruling out vision or hearing problems.
A person may then work with a psychologist or learning specialist who will use specific tests to help diagnose the disability.
Often, these can help pinpoint that person's learning strengths and weaknesses in addition to revealing a particular learning disability. Coping With a Learning Disability Although a diagnosis of a learning disability can feel upsetting, it's actually the first step in resolving the condition.
Once a person's particular problem has pinpointed, he or she can then follow strategies or take medicines to help cope with the disability.
And taking steps to manage the disability can often help restore a student's self-esteem and confidence. Some students who have been diagnosed with a learning disability work with a special teacher or tutor for a few hours a week to learn certain study skills, note-taking strategies, or organizational techniques that can help them compensate for their learning disability. If you've been diagnosed with a learning disability, you may need support just for the subjects that give you the most trouble.
Your school might have a special classroom with a teacher who is trained to help students overcome learning problems.
Some schools develop what is called an Individualized Education Program (or IEP), which helps define a person's learning strengths and weaknesses and make a plan for the learning activities that will help the student do his or her best in school. A student's IEP might include sessions with a tutor or time in a specialized classroom for a certain subject, or the use of special equipment to help with learning, such as books on tape or laptop computers for students who have dyslexia.
Medication is often prescribed to help students with ADHD. Several medicines on the market today can help improve a student's attention span and ability to focus and help control impulses and other hyperactive behavior. There's no cure for a learning disability. And you don't outgrow it. But it's never too late to get help. Most people with these disabilities adapt to their learning differences and find strategies that help them accomplish their goals and dreams.
Note: All information on TeensHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995- The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.
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Katy Park, who runs arts and wellness programs for Momentum — a community service program for people with intellectual disabilities — starts a class on healthy sexuality by asking her students to define what they want in a relationship. Brianna Soukup for NPR hide caption toggle caption Brianna Soukup for NPR Katy Park, who runs arts and wellness programs for Momentum — a community service program for people with intellectual disabilities — starts a class on healthy sexuality by asking her students to define what they want in a relationship.
Brianna Soukup for NPR Editor's note: This report includes graphic and disturbing descriptions of sexual assault. In the , the material is not watered down.
The dozen women and men in a large room full of windows and light in Casco, Maine, take on complex issues, such as how to break up or how you know you're in an abusive relationship. And the most difficult of those issues is sexual assault. Katy Park, the teacher, begins the class with a phrase they've memorized: "My body is my own," Park starts as the rest join in, "and I get to decide what is right for me." People with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate more than seven times that for people without disabilities.
NPR asked the U.S. Department of Justice to use data it had collected, but had not published, to calculate that rate. At a moment when Americans are talking about sexual assault and sexual harassment, a yearlong NPR investigation finds that people with intellectual disabilities are one of the most at-risk groups in America. "This is really an epidemic and we're not talking about it," says , a social worker who runs arts and wellness programs for Momentum, an agency based in Maine that provides activities in the community and support services for adults with intellectual disabilities.
Those high rates of abuse — which have been an open secret among people with intellectual disabilities, their families and people who work with them — are why Park started this class about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality. Because one of the best ways to stop sexual assault is to give people with intellectual disabilities the ability to identify abuse and to know how to develop the healthy relationships they want.
"Let's talk about the positive parts of being in a relationship," Park says, holding a marker while standing at a whiteboard, at the start of the class. "Why do we want to be in a relationship?" "For love," says one man. "And sexual reaction." "Romance," adds a woman.
Park has been working with adults with intellectual disabilities for 14 years. She says that two-thirds of her class is about learning the building blocks of healthy relationships. Brianna Soukup for NPR hide caption toggle caption Brianna Soukup for NPR "How about support?" asks Lynne, a woman who speaks with a hushed voice and sits near the front of the class. "Having support, right?" Park says, writing the word on the board.
"We all want support." Embed • From working with the men and women here, Park realized they want to have relationships, love and romance. They see their parents, siblings and their friends in relationships. They see people in relationships when they watch TV or go to the movies.
They want the same things as anyone else. But it's harder for them. When they were in school, most of the adults in this room say, they didn't get the sex ed classes other kids got. Now, just going on a date is difficult. They probably don't drive or have cars. They rely on public transportation. They don't have a lot of money. They live at home with their parents or in a group home, where there's not a lot of privacy.
And then there's the one thing that really complicates romance for people with intellectual disabilities: those high rates of sexual abuse. "Oftentimes, it actually is among the only sexual experience they've had," says Park. "When you don't have other healthy sexual experiences, how do you sort through that? And then the shame, and the layers upon layers upon layers." This class, she says, is about "breaking the chain, being empowered to say, 'No.
This stops with me.' " "I think people take advantage" A participant helps Park hang the agenda on the wall at the start of class. Brianna Soukup for NPR The women and men come to Momentum during the week for different programs. They go kayaking and biking; they go to the library and do volunteer work at the local food bank. There's a range of disability here. You can look at some of the men and women — maybe someone with Down syndrome — and see they have a disability.
Others, even after you talk to them, you might not figure out they have an intellectual disability. Like one small woman with short, choppy dark hair, streaked red. She's 22 now, but when she was 18, her boyfriend was several years older. She says he was controlling. He didn't let her have a cellphone or go see her friends.
"He was strangling me and stuff like that," says the woman. (NPR is not using her name.) "And he was, the R-word — I hate to say it, but rape." She says he raped her eight times, hit her and kicked her. "So I don't know how I'm alive today, actually.
He choked me where I blacked out." She thinks she was an easy target for him, because of her mild intellectual disability. "I think people take advantage," she says. "They like to take advantage of disabilities. I have disabilities, not as bad as theirs.
But I think they like to take advantage, which is wrong. I hate that." She says the class helped her better understand what she wanted, and had a right to, in a relationship. She's got a kind and respectful boyfriend now. Her friend Lynne listens and says she would like to find a boyfriend. But in her past, she has experienced repeated sexual abuse. She talks about a time when she was 14 and "this older guy that knew us" forced her to have sex. She says she told people but no one believed her.
The next year, when she was 15, she was sexually assaulted — this time by a boy at her school. "I was trying to scream," she says, "but I couldn't because he had his hand over my mouth, telling me not to say anything to anybody." Lynne, who is 38, says those rapes and others left her unable to develop relationships.
"I couldn't trust anyone," she says. Lynne (NPR has agreed to identify her by her middle name) says this class has helped her realize she wants a real, romantic relationship and has taught her how to better find one. "There's a lot of loneliness" Katherine McLaughlin, a New Hampshire sex educator, developed the .
She wrote it so that it uses concrete examples to describe things, to match the learning style of people with intellectual disabilities. It shows pictures and uses photographs.
McLaughlin says the main desire of adults with intellectual disabilities is to learn "how to meet people and start relationships. There's a lot of loneliness." That loneliness leaves them vulnerable to getting into abusive relationships, she says, or to rape. A student takes notes in Park's Relate class. Brianna Soukup for NPR hide caption toggle caption Brianna Soukup for NPR Sometimes, especially when they're young, they can't name what happened to them as a sexual assault.
Because they didn't get the education to identify it. "We don't think of them as sexual beings. We don't think of them as having sexual needs or desires," McLaughlin says. "Often they're thought of as children, even when they're 50 years old." Sheryl White-Scott, a New York City internist who specializes in treating people with intellectual disabilities, estimates that at least half of her female patients are survivors of sexual assault.
"In my clinical experience, it's probably close to 50 percent, but it could be as high as 75 percent," she says. "There's a severe lacking in sexual education. Some people just don't understand what is acceptable and what's not." Most of the women and men at the class in Maine say they didn't get sex ed classes, like other kids, when they were in school.
Or if they did, it was the simplistic warnings, like the kind given to young children. "It's easy to fall back on 'good touch-bad touch' sex ed," says , the author of Already Doing It: Intellectual Disability and Sexual Agency. "That's a lot of what they get." And the usual warning about "stranger danger" can be unhelpful, because it's not strangers but people they know and trust who are most likely to assault them. Most rapes are committed by someone a victim knows.
For women without disabilities, the person who assaults them is a stranger 24 percent of the time. NPR's data from unpublished Justice Department numbers show the difference is stark for people with disabilities: The abuser is a stranger less than 14 percent of the time.
"Parents get this; professionals don't," says Nancy Nowell, a sexuality educator with a specialty in teaching people with developmental disabilities, an umbrella term that includes intellectual disability but also autism.
Parents have significant reason to worry: Figuring out what's a healthy relationship is difficult for any young person, and it can be even trickier if a person has an intellectual disability. People with intellectual disabilities are vulnerable to problems from rape to unwanted pregnancy. Some people with intellectual disabilities marry. A small number have children — and rely upon family or others to support them as parents. Still, says McLaughlin, parents often are reluctant to talk to their children with intellectual disabilities about sex.
"Parents often feel, if I talk about it they will go and be sexual," she says, and they fear that could make them targets for sexual assault.
Park asks her students to weigh in on agreements with a thumbs up or a thumbs down during class. Brianna Soukup for NPR hide caption toggle caption Brianna Soukup for NPR But educators such as McLaughlin, Gill and Nowell argue the reverse: that comprehensive sexuality education is the best way to prevent sexual assault. "If people know what sexual assault is," says Gill, an assistant professor of disability studies at Syracuse University, "they become empowered in what is sexuality and what they want in sexuality." Respect Gill argues that a long history of prejudice and fear gets in the way.
He notes early 20th century laws that required the sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities. That came out of the eugenics movement, which put faith in IQ tests as proof of the genetic superiority of white, upper-class Americans. Embed • People with intellectual disabilities were seen as a danger to that order.
"Three generations of imbeciles are enough," Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote in that ruled the state of Virginia could forcibly sterilize a young woman deemed "feebleminded." Carrie Buck was the daughter of a woman who lived at a state institution for people with intellectual disabilities.
And when Buck became pregnant — the result of a rape — she was committed to a state institution where she gave birth and was declared mentally incompetent to raise the child. Buck was then forcibly sterilized to prevent her from getting pregnant again. There was evidence that neither Buck, nor her daughter, Vivian, was, in fact, intellectually disabled. In the first half of the 20th century, impoverished women who had children outside marriage were often ruled by courts to be "feebleminded." There was another myth in popular culture that people with intellectual disabilities were violent and could not control their sexual urges.
Think about that staple of high school literature classes, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. The intellectually disabled Lennie can't control himself when the ranch hand's wife lets him stroke her hair.
He becomes excited, holding her too tight, and accidentally strangles her. The class in Maine aims to help these adults know what's a healthy relationship and how to communicate how they feel about someone. The main way this class differs from a traditional sex ed class is that — to help people with intellectual disabilities learn — the material is broken down and spread out over 10 sessions.
Each class lasts for 2 1/2 hours. But the adults in the class are completely attentive for the entire session. They do take a couple of very short breaks to get up and move around, including one break to dance. Everyone gets up when Park turns on the tape recorder and plays — just right for this group asking to be treated like adults — Aretha Franklin singing "Respect." There is joyous dancing and shouts.
And when the song is over, they go back to their seats and get back to work. Meg Anderson assisted with reporting for this story.
A Day in the life of and Individual with Intellectual Disabilities