Developmental Considerations

General Information

Children with intellectual and developmental disabilities vary in their ability to communicate, do school work and socialize. The disabilities refer to a range of cognitive, social/emotional, adaptive and motor delays. Students with mild intellectual disabilities can develop basic literacy skills and functional mathematics skills. A child will sometimes be identified before they enter school. Use the assessment findings to provide supports and ACCOMMODATIONS that are tailored to suit the student’s current needs.

Intellectual and developmental disabilities are identified through psychological or psycho-educational assessment. These assessments use standardized testing tools to identify strengths and weaknesses. Assessment also includes the use of other tools to determine skills in adaptive behaviour, which includes skills in the following areas: communication, self-direction, functional academic skills work and leisure, health and safety.

General Characteristics To Look For

Cognitive concerns may include

  • difficulty with attention and memory (may remember one day and not the next)
  • difficulty developing skills in reading and mathematics
  • difficulty making generalizations from one setting or situation to the next
  • difficulty generating and using strategies
  • difficulty processing visual and non-verbal information
  • difficulty following directions and routines
  • difficulty with transitions
  • behind grade level peers in academic performance
  • may be able to decode words but does not understand the material read

Social and emotional concerns may include

  • difficulty reading social cues
  • difficulty interacting with peers
  • difficulty understanding the content of conversation
  • difficulties knowing when to listen and speak in conversations
  • being withdrawn/passive because of inability to communicate or behaving inappropriately because of communication difficulties.
  • limited or focused range of interests
  • socially inappropriate behaviour due to child having difficulty knowing what is acceptable behaviour or what is expected

Physical concerns may include

  • problems with fine motor skills (e.g., printing, writing, tying shoe laces)
  • problems with gross motor skills
  • possible seizures

Communication concerns may include

  • delayed language development-expressive language (oral and written language or use of symbols-speaking and writing)
  • poor comprehension of language –receptive communication (comprehending oral or written language or symbols-reading and listening)

Adaptive concerns
  • has delays or deficits in two or more age-appropriate life skills (activities of daily living)

Impact On Student Success

  • Slower to learn
  • inability to perform routine age-appropriate
  • academic activities develop at their own pace, hard to tell when a child will learn a given skill
  • immature reactions to environmental stimuli
  • below-average social and academic performance

Just as children with intellectual and developmental difficulties vary in their ability to communicate, do school work and socialize so must the strategies that are used at home, at school and in the community.

  • Remember that background noises such as television, radio, conversations, etc., can increase difficulty in communication.
  • Assume a face-to-face position (expressions provide information too) and keep good eye contact with the child.
  • Deal with one issue at a time. Keep to the topic and note other “issues for further discussion at a later time. Make a clear break between topics. If possible, do not attempt more than one (or at most two) topics in one session.
  • Do not attempt anything more than the bare minimum of communication if the child is tired, ill, or distracted.
  • Do not interrupt, or permit interruption, unless absolutely necessary. Conversations wander badly with interruptions. Try to have some visual cues for the topic— a calendar to talk about appointments, illustrations or simple diagrams to provide information, making written lists, or even “stick figure” drawings can enhance both receptive and expressive language.
  • Use gestures and encourage the child to use gestures to help get a point across.

When you are doing the talking

  • Speak slowly—not loudly, just slowly. Remember that speech sounds at least twice as fast to a person listening as it does to the person speaking.
  • Speak in short phrases and pause briefly between each phrase. Remember that a child needs a little more time to take in what is being said.
  • If the child is able, ask for a paraphrase of what has been said. Remember that verbal repetition does not always signify understanding.
  • Try to make a brief summary statement at the end of the message.
  • A discussion is often opened with “Tell me about …”. When children have language problems, this open-ended approach can be very confusing, even intimidating, and the result is little or no information. More specific questions are usually much more effective in these situations. They are also often necessary to help the child “fill in the gaps” in the story.
  • Keep vocabulary straightforward and direct. It is very easy to slip into jargon, and the child may not only fail to understand but may also not want to admit that he/she has not understood.

When you are listening

  • Look like an interested listener. Children who have language problems usually rely quite heavily on non-verbal cues. Facial expression may give more feedback than verbal information.
  • Watch for visual cues such as facial expression, visual focus, gestures, etc., from the child.
  • Before responding, repeat or paraphrase what the child has said to confirm understanding of what he/she had in mind. If the information is not understood, ask for clarification in a manner that does not assign blame. “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand” can open the door to much better communication.
  • If the child is obviously searching for a word, help out. Offering a multiple choice, asking for a gestural demonstration, etc., will help keep him/her on topic.
  • Remember that it is the child who has the difficulties, so the responsibility lies with others to understand and make themselves clear. Others must accommodate because he/she cannot.
  • Differentiate instruction and assessment practices.
  • Understand and use the student’s assessment findings as provided in the assessment report.
  • Provide supports and ACCOMMODATIONS that are tailored to suit the student’s current needs.
  • Consider assistive technologies. These technologies help to remediate (i.e., build skills) and work around areas of need.
  • Teach compensatory strategies to address difficulties (e.g., for short-term memory difficulties use rehearsal, chunking information, and mnemonic devices)
  • Teach students to use self-talk to help stay focused.
  • Slow down the pace of instruction.
  • Assist teachers in finding supportive consultation as needed.
  • Maintain current knowledge of available community resources.
  • Ensure solid transition planning between grades and
  • provide opportunities for teachers, families, and community partners to share knowledge/information about what works for the child.
  • Support training opportunities for teachers and other staff.
  • Use the family as an information resource and ensure that there is active and positive communication between family and school.
  • Provide information about the child, including what motivates him/her, what communication tools enhance his/her learning, etc.
  • Help with transition planning and building consistency for the child in home and school expectations.
  • Be a supportive advocate for the child.
  • Consider use of community supports and participating in parent support groups.
  • Provide supportive consultation, resources, and referrals to other services if needed.
  • Make sure that schools and families are aware of special programs or supports available for children.
  • Work collaboratively with other community services to provide a “big picture” support system.
  • Engage in ongoing joint training initiatives.