People with intellectual and developmental disabilities can often be diagnosed as children.
As they move through life, the demands on these individuals will change based on their stage of life. Each new phase of life could require a different level of support. Laws and services can support people living with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.
Laws supporting people with disabilities
An essential aspect of ensuring the well-being and rights of adults with intellectual disabilities is laws and regulations protecting their interests. These laws share common goals of promoting inclusion, preventing discrimination, and providing access to necessary community support and habilitation services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that mandates special education and related services to eligible children with disabilities. It ensures that students with intellectual disabilities receive an appropriate education that prepares them for pre-vocational, vocational, and independent living skills.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination based on disability in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. This includes colleges, universities, and other entities. It ensures that individuals with intellectual disabilities can access educational and vocational programs.
Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a landmark federal law prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, in employment, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.
The population’s disability laws aim to protect
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FSADS) is a group of conditions that can occur when a person has been exposed to alcohol in the womb. FSADS can cause:
- Impaired executive function
- Impaired behavioral and emotional regulation
- Low body weight
- Poor coordination
- Hyperactive behavior
- Poor memory
- Learning disabilities
- Speech and language delays
- Shorter-than-average height
- Small head size
- Atypical facial features (i.e., smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip)
Fragile X Syndrome
- Motor delays
- Communication delays
- Learning disabilities
- Social and behavioral challenges
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal disorder in the United States. It is caused by an extra chromosome that affects the child’s physical and cognitive development. Physical characteristics of Down Syndrome include:
- A flattened face
- Almond-shaped eyes that slant up
- A short neck
- A tongue that tends to stick out of the mouth
- Small hands, feet, and ears
- Low muscle tone or loose joints
- Shorter in height as children and adults
People with intellectual and developmental delays can do extraordinary things.
- In 1989, actor Chris Burke became the first actor with Down Syndrome to star in a television series. The character he played had Down Syndrome and was met with some of the challenges Chris himself faced in real life.
- In 2018, Luke Warren became the first Gerber baby in history with Down Syndrome.
- Chris Nikic is the first person with Down Syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon, an amazing physical feat for any person. His father designed a special training program for him, allowing Chris to build up his endurance and strength slowly.
Occupational therapists support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Some individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities have mild impairments with occupational performance. Others have significant and permanent impairments with occupational performance at home, school, and work. Occupational Therapists (OTs) are a vital part of a multi-disciplinary team.
- Evaluation and discharge planning: OTs conduct comprehensive assessments to understand the specific needs, strengths, and limitations of individuals with intellectual disabilities. These assessments help in developing personalized intervention plans.
- Skill development: Occupational therapy interventions target skill development in areas such as self-care (e.g., dressing, grooming), fine and gross motor skills, and social interactions. These skills are crucial for greater independence and community participation.
- Adaptive strategies: OTs work with individuals and their families to develop adaptive techniques and tools that facilitate better daily functioning. This can include assistive devices and environmental modifications.
- Pre-vocational and vocational training: Many individuals with intellectual disabilities have the potential to work and contribute to society. OTs provide vocational training to help individuals acquire job-related skills and find meaningful employment.
- Self-regulation: Addressing challenging behaviors is essential to occupational therapy. Therapists use evidence-based strategies to manage and reduce behaviors that hinder participation in daily life.
- Social development: Occupational therapists enhance individuals’ ability to engage in community activities and access community resources.
- Advocacy and education: Occupational therapists often advocate for individuals with intellectual disabilities, promoting their rights and inclusion in society. They also educate families and caregivers on how to support individuals effectively.
Regardless of the diagnosis, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities each have unique needs. Laws and services support people with disabilities so they can engage in the meaningful life they deserve.
This article was written by Tasha Holmes, MOT, OTR/L, BCP.