Intellectual Disabilities:

Like everyone else, people with an intellectual disability enjoy activities and meeting new people. Most people with an intellectual disability are very able and value any opportunity for new experiences. Within these experiences the core values of offering choice and independence in relation to all elements of participation is of extreme importance.

Each person with an intellectual disability is an individual. Therefore it is important in getting to know each individual – to spend time with them and/or ensure that an overview of any specific needs the person may have is received firstly from themselves and then the person’s family/support worker. There are some particular points to be aware of.

These include the following:

  • Some people with intellectual disability may have a high pain tolerance. If they fall etc, it’s important to ensure an injury has not been sustained
  • People with Down Syndrome may have a circulatory disorder. They may also have poor co-ordination and difficulty with steps.
  • People with intellectual disability who also have epilepsy may be prone to photo-sensitivity. Therefore flashing lights at a disco and some lighting from films may precipitate a  seizure.
  • Some people with learning difficulties may react negatively to change – mostly through fear of the unknown. Its best to introduce change very gradually, eg new coach or helper.
  • Do not sensationalize the accomplishments of people with learning disability. Respect their achievements as you would any athlete.

The above does not pertain to all individuals with intellectual disability. However it is important to be aware of these points and ensure time is spent getting to know each person’s abilities as well as their needs.


DO – say what you want to say, clearly and simply
DO – attract someone’s attention by eye contact and calling their name.
DO – provide tasks within their abilities.
DO – break down tasks into uncomplicated steps
DO – use plenty of repetition
DO – show rather than tell people how to do a task.
DO – give praise and positive reinforcement.
DO – be patient if people don’t understand something the first time you tell them.
DO – speak to the person with intellectual disability directly and not to their carer or family member.
DO – be prepared to ask questions or give instructions in different ways if you are not understood first time round.
DO – make sure you are understood by asking them to explain what you have said in their own words.
DO – treat everyone as an individual and afford them the respect and dignity you would like yourself.

DON’T – use jargon
DON’T – assume that they will know you are taking to them
DON’T – be afraid to make a mistake when meeting and communicating with someone with an intellectual disability.
DON’T – insist on helping if your assistance is turned down.
DON’T – patronise adults with and intellectual disability by saying such things as “good boy/girl”
DON’T – use abstract language
DON’T – pretend to understand if you actually don’t; just ask them to repeat it or show you what they mean
DON’T – expect all individuals to be able to follow written instructions.
DON’T – assume that carers or family members are there to advocate and speak for the person with intellectual disability.
DON’T – take some behaviours that are difficult to manage personally, sometimes they are unaware their behaviour may be offensive.
DON’T – be offended by lack of response or unconventional behaviour
DON’T – ignore inappropriate behaviour.