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Intellectual Disabilities
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Introduction to Intellectual DisabilitiesCauses of Intellectual DisabilitiesDiagnosis of Intellectual DisabilitiesHistorical & Contemporary Perspectives of Intellectual DisabilitiesIntellectual Disabilities & Supportive RehabilitationSupport for Families of People with Intellectual DisabilitiesIntellectual Disabilities Summary & ConclusionIntellectual Disabilities Resources & References
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Childhood Mental Disorders and Illnesses

Adaptive Behavior (Life Skills)

Tammy Reynolds, B.A., C.E. Zupanick, Psy.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

The second defining feature of intellectual disabilities (ID, formerly mental retardation) is the limited development of life skills. These important skills enable us to live in a safe and socially responsible manner. These skills are collectively referred to as adaptive functioning.

Adaptive functioning is affected by three basic skill sets. The first skill set is conceptual skills. This includes reading, numbers, money, time, and communication skills. The second skill set is social skills. These skills help us to get along well with others. These skills include understanding and following social rules and customs; obeying laws; and detecting the motivations of others in order to avoid victimization and deception. The third skill set is practical life skills. These are the skills needed to perform the activities of daily living. This includes feeding, bathing, dressing, occupational skills, and navigational skills.

Problems in adaptive functioning are identified by using standardized tests. These tests compare an individual's score with the average score for the general population. Problems are indicated when a person's score is below the score of 97.5% of the population. However, some people may score above these levels and still meet the criteria for an intellectual disability.

The assessment of adaptive functioning is very important. This is because it identifies the supports needed to help someone optimize their functioning. Supportive rehabilitation is included at the end of this article.

In 2010, the Social Security Administration proposed changes to way intellectual disabilities would be defined and assessed. There is now a greater emphasis on adaptive functioning. These changes affect eligibility for social security disability benefits.