Cognitive disabilities or learning disabilities are also neurodevelopment disabilities that prevent babies and children from developing learning skills and applying them. They may either impede growth and development totally or at times just delay the developmental process in some milder cases.
They can be caused by genetic or inherited conditions such as Down syndrome, Autism, Prader-Willi syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, any kind of head injury or illness, or even exposure to alcohol during pregnancy. But some cases have no concrete cause.
People or babies suffering from intellectual disabilities would generally exhibit limitations in later life in two spheres:
- Intellectual functioning – Also known as IQ, it includes a person’s competency to learn, reason, make decisions and solve problems.
Conventionally, any person with an IQ quotient less than 70 or 75 would be considered intellectually disabled.
- Adaptive behaviours – Includes like efficient communication, healthy interaction with others, and the ability to take care of oneself – skills necessary for day-to-day life.
Some common symptoms that could possibly highlight the existence of intellectual disability are as follows:
- Normal development or cognitive development may occur at the delayed pace. So the milestones that a baby typically achieves within first six months may be attained by an intellectually challenged infant only after a year or even much later. But note that is not a full-proof indication.
- One more indication would be to observe difficulties faced by the infant in rolling over, sitting up, crawling, or walking late; talking late or having trouble talking; delay in mastering things like potty training, dressing, and feeding himself or herself; difficulty in remembering things.Inability to connect actions to consequences; behavioural problems such as explosive tantrums; or difficulty with problem solving or logical thinking, can also be some potential causes of worry.
Dr Brunda Amruthraj, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, ZeitGeist, Centre for Personal and Organisational Development, Bengaluru, says: “If there is a slight delay in cognitive development, it is first seen when the child starts looking down in the first few days. The baby may not make eye-to-eye contact and this initial trait can be a cause of worry. When the cry is very feeble and not loud, it can also be an indicator for cognitive development being off-track. This can be a cause of worry. For all of this tracking, we have the VSMS (Vineland Social Maturity Scale) which is a well-documented and well-researched scale that contains developmental patterns that a child may show, to find out if there is any developmental delay.”
Once parents or caregivers sense that there may be the potential indication of intellectual disability in their infant, a child-specialist or paediatrician’s help must immediately be sought. In many cases, although the disorder is life-long, normal functioning of the baby in later life can be ensured, through early diagnosis and timely remedy. Medical and psychological assistance become key elements to facilitate this normal functioning.