Intellectual disability is a lot more common than most people realise. In fact, four out of every 100 South Africans is affected by some level of intellectual impairment.
Any mother can give birth to a baby with a malformed brain – although there are factors that increase the risk. And anyone can suffer an injury to the brain as a result of a car or other accident, or through disease such as meningitis or stroke.
The brain is one of the most important parts of a person’s body. It directs what we do, think, feel and understand. If the brain is damaged and not able to work properly, we say the person has an intellectual disability.
Previously, such a condition was referred to as mental handicap or mental retardation. Today, the more accepted terms to refer to 'a person with an intellectual disability'', with the accent on the person rather than the disability.
It is wrong to refer to a person suffering from Down syndrome as a Mongol or a Down’s. Although their intelligence may be affected to such an extent that “normal” school progress may not be possible, the potential of the human being should always be regarded as the most important.
Although the condition of intellectual disability cannot be cured, the other functions of the brain can be stimulated to enable the person to reach his or her maximum potential.
Depending on the severity of the impairment, the decision may be made to place the disabled person in a special home or protective environment. Parents who make this decision often have to deal with feelings of guilt and failure – but the reality is that it may well be the best option, especially if there are other children involved.
Caring for a disabled child can be so physically and emotionally draining that parents are unable to give their other children the attention they need. The disabled child may also thrive better in an environment geared specifically towards their needs.
Special schools for children with intellectual disability.
Homes for children and adults with intellectual disability.