Intellectual Disabilities: Three Vignettes

Mild ID
John is a 26-year-old man who received special education for most of his schooling. He is currently employed as a night janitor at a brewery. John has worked there for about eight years, having begun on a part-time basis while he was still in high school. He is married and has one child.

John began receiving special education while he was in the second grade. During that school year, he was referred for psychological evaluation because he was experiencing severe difficulties in all academic areas. John was administered the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-R) on which he attained a full-scale IQ score of 68. The report of that evaluation described him as socially immature, but otherwise well adjusted emotionally. He was subsequently placed in the program for students with educable mental retardation (EMR). Throughout the remainder of elementary school, John spent about half the school day in the special education classroom and the remainder of the day in the regular classroom. While in high school, John enrolled in some regular classes, but continued to receive tutoring and some course work in the special education program. During his last two years, he was in a work-study program and spent half of the day at his job.

His intellectual and academic skills have been reevaluated several times with his IQ scores being slightly higher on each subsequent assessment. When he was last evaluated at age 17, John attained a full-scale IQ score of 73 on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-R). At that time, John's reading and spelling scores were at the 4th-grade level, and his math skills were similar to those of a 5th-grader. The report of that assessment described him as an average appearing and likeable young man.

John is the youngest of four children. Neither of his parents finished high school, and his father worked as an unskilled laborer before he retired.  Two of John's siblings were also enrolled in special education programs.

Moderate to Severe ID
Mary is a 19-year-old woman with a moderate intellectual disability. She is currently enrolled in the "Adaptive Living Program" at the local high school. She has Down Syndrome, and was identified as having this condition shortly after birth. Mary lives at home with her parents. She is now the "only child" as her older sister is currently away at college, and her older brother is in the Air Force. Mary's parents, both of whom are college graduates, plan to keep her at home until she completes her schooling (at age 21). They assume she will then move to a semi-independent living situation (SIL). If that does not work out, they will attempt to find her a placement in a local group home.

Mary began attending special education classes at age three, though she and her family began receiving support services shortly after her birth.  During kindergarten through sixth grade, she was integrated into a regular classroom for part of each school day. However, the major emphasis of her education has always been the development of self-help skills and functional academics. Mary is able to dress and groom herself and can perform various household chores. She can count, make change, and is able to do basic addition and subtraction. She reads and spells at about a second to third-grade level. Mary is currently receiving job training skills as part of the transition services provided by her school district. Her parents are optimistic that she may eventually be able to obtain semi-independent employment. If not,  they hope she will be employed at a sheltered workshop.

Mary's learning skills have been evaluated a number of times over the years, with her IQ scores ranging from the upper 30s to the mid 40s. Her most recent evaluation resulted in a mental age of eight years and seven months, and an I.Q.score of 46. The AAMR Adaptive Behavior Scale was also administered, and resulted in an age-equivalent of nine years, two months.

Profound ID
Ronald is a 41-year-old man who currently lives in a group home with five other persons with intellectual disabilities. He has lived in various institutional and group-home settings for most of his life. Though Ron is too severely disabled to work in a sheltered workshop, his caretakers do frequently take him out to various community activities and events. He seems to greatly enjoy "getting out, "and his caretakers report that he seems much more alert after these "excursions."

The cause of Ron's mental retardation was anoxia (lack of oxygen) at birth which resulted in "severe, profuse brain damage." He also has cerebral palsy which severely limits the use of his arms and legs. Ronald's hearing is impaired as well.

The most recent evaluation of Ron's mental abilities which was conducted in the mid-1980s suggested an overall functioning level of about three years, eight months. However, it is difficult to determine what he actually knows because he has no speech, and the cerebral palsy makes it impossible for him to use sign language. His only form of communication is through the use of a sound-symbol board.

Ron had very little formal education as a child because state law did not mandate that special education be provided for those with severe or profound mental retardation until the late 1970s. Currently, however, state and federal laws mandate educational programs for all students with mental retardation, regardless of their level of functioning.

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