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Intellectual disability, a mild impairment once referred to as mild mental retardation, isn’t something you’ll always encounter as an educator.

But suppose you’re considering teaching in special needs schools instead of more mainstream families. In that case, you may come across students with mild intellectual disabilities alongside children with other additional needs and requirements.

We look closely at mild intellectual disability (MID) in the classroom, including what adaptations children may need and what support they may require for success in school. Read on to learn more about the definition of mild mental retardation, now known as intellectual disability, including its origins, causes, and how students with MID can be managed and supported in an educational setting.

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The definition of mild intellectual disability

Intellectual disability, often referred to as MID, is a form of impairment that certain students may face. This impairment can lead to a reduction of skills and development in certain areas, including:

  • Overall cognitive development and understanding
  • The ability to live life independently
  • Intellectual skill building and functioning
  • Social skills and communication

According to the Education Corner, around 1% of the total population could be considered intellectually disabled, though, within that percentage, there are many variables. While some students could have severe intellectual disabilities, others will be considered mild – as much as 85% of that total figure. In these cases, the term MID is used as it refers to mild intellectual disability. Children with this impairment are more able to succeed, be independent, and have an understanding of the world than those with greater severity of the intellectual disability.

Intellectual disability can be caused by various factors, from genetic conditions to problems during pregnancy or birth. Illness or injury may also be the cause for some children with intellectual disabilities, specifically from diseases or incidents that cause damage to the brain. However, in as many as 2/3 of children with MID, the cause is not known.

Teaching students with MID

For many teachers, the idea of teaching students with MID can be a challenging one. Traditional training and development are thrown out the window, especially considering students can develop and learn at differing rates. Typically, children with MID function anywhere between 2-4 grades below their age. This difference isn’t just based on their academic ability, but also other capabilities, such as delays in:

  • Memory
  • Speech development
  • Attention span
  • Maturity
  • Moderation of behavior

Because of all these considerations, educating a class with MID students requires plenty of additional instructions, adapted lesson planning, and much more support. For this reason, many MID students are placed in special education classrooms to support their learning in a specifically-designed environment. Because of reduced development in their ability to understand social cues, display empathy, or listen for extended amounts of time, MID students can quickly struggle and even become disruptive in a typical classroom.

What do MID students need to succeed in the classroom?

So, for MID students to succeed in school, what do they need? Teachers should first consider that not all students are the same, whether or not they’re categorized with the same label. With such a wide range of diagnoses under one umbrella – from brain injury to Down syndrome – it’s vital to tailor plans specifically to the needs of your students. As a general rule, though, students with MID will need higher levels of support, daily help, and continuous and repeated teaching to succeed.

The subject matter that other students may grasp the first time, whether it’s literature, math, or science, may be far harder for students with MID to understand — as such, providing plenty of team and repetition to learn can be an essential part of the lesson plan. Providing 1-on-1 care is the ideal way to work with students with MID, allowing them to have the direct support they need to keep on-task and concentrate on even tricky tasks.

A distraction-free environment that promotes learning is also an excellent way to help students with MID succeed in school. However, it’s essential to change your expectations from what you’d require of students of similar age. Special education classrooms are often the best place for students with intellectual disabilities, though some benefit from homeschooling as an alternative.

Essential skills for teachers working with MID students

For educators that have never taught students with intellectual disabilities before, providing the support and care needed can be a unique challenge in and of its own. So to get off on the right foot and succeed as a teacher, what skills are required to do the best job possible? Here are just a few of the invaluable skills that can benefit teachers working with MID students:

  • Patience: For educators used to working with more able students, adapting to a slower pace of teaching can be challenging. Go slow, give your students time to take the information in, and don’t be afraid to go over the same material, again and again to ensure they have a thorough understanding of what you’re trying to teach
  • Persistence: All too often, MID children are the ones that are ‘given up on’ the first. But with persistence and determination, it’s possible to provide an excellent educational experience to children with MID – and even provide them with a way to be excited about school in general
  • Understanding: For any teacher, empathy is a valuable skill. This is even more the case for students with MID, where going by the rules doesn’t work for anybody. Understanding the challenges, difficulties, and frustrations your students have is the first step to becoming a better teacher for students with intellectual disability

Do you teach students with mild intellectual disabilities?