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Quick facts

  • Intellectual disability is NOT an illness. In some cases intellectual disability may have been caused by an illness, but it is not curable like an illness
  • Four out of every 100 South Africans are affected by some level of intellectual disability.
  • People with intellectual Disability are those whose mental age is well below their chronological age.
  • People with intellectual disability have difficulty in acquiring life skills and coping with challenges.
  • Intellectual disability is diagnosed before the age of 18.
  • Many children show no physical signs of disability and the only way to establish intellectual disability is by conducting appropriate intelligence tests.
  • Some children present with obvious features such as Down Syndrome and other genetic conditions.
  • Cerebral palsy, epilepsy, deafness and blindness can be associated with intellectual disability.
  • At conception and before birth intellectual disability can be caused by chromosomal, congenital and metabolic abnormalities like Down Syndrome, infections like German Measles, poor nutrition and illness in the mother or alcohol and drugs used by the mother.
  • During and immediately after birth intellectual disability can be caused by premature birth, lack of oxygen to the brain, long labour or difficult birth using forceps.
  • In infancy and childhood intellectual disability can be caused by infections such as: meningitis, encephalitis, conditions such as severe jaundice, low blood sugar levels and trauma (accidental and non-accidental) as well as a lack of stimulation and poor nutrition.
  • Some of the ways of preventing intellectual disability are: abstaining from smoking, alcohol and drugs in pregnancy, good nutrition, a rapid response when a child is ill, appropriate treatment for gastroenteritis, safe play areas at home and in the community, inoculation against Rubella, ante-natal care and safe and professional obstetric care.
  • Some causes of intellectual disability are unknown, but new discoveries are being made all the time that may shed light on causes and prevention.