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What is an intellectual disability?

This article is by Community Living Toronto.
Published in 2009.

Intellectual disability is a term used when a person has certain limitations in mental functioning and in skills such as communicating, taking care of him or herself, and social skills.

These cause a person to learn and develop more slowly than a typical person. Individuals with an intellectual disability may take longer to learn to speak, walk, and take care of their personal needs such as dressing or eating. A person with an intellectual disability will require some level of support for his or her entire life. Intellectual disabilities are sometimes called "developmental disabilities."

There are more than 200 known causes of intellectual disability. Some common examples of intellectual disability are:

  • Down syndrome
  • Autism

Until recently, you had very few options if you had a child with an intellectual disability. You could send the child to an institution or keep the child at home. In the past, it was common to send the child to an institution for life.

Today, in Ontario, children and adults with intellectual disabilities are included in our communities. They can attend local schools and day cares, get jobs and pay taxes. Many people live in their own home. They receive support from their families, friends and community-based agencies.

Community agencies support people with an intellectual disability at every stage of their life, including children, youth, adults and seniors. Community agencies provide essential services so people with intellectual disabilities can go to school, work and do activities.

To find a community agency near you, contact your local community information centre or go to Services Near Me for a list of services in your area.

For More Information

  • Ability Online - A moderated online community for young people with disabilities.
  • Community Living Ontario - A provincial association that promotes citizenship, belonging, and equality of people who have an intellectual disability. The website has contact information and links to Community Living centres across Ontario.
  • ConnectAbility - An interactive website with information for those working with people with intellectual disabilities. The library section has information in many languages.
  • Persons with Disabilities Online - A site with information about government programs and services for persons with disabilities in Canada.
  • Programs, Services and Supports - This website has links to information about the Ontario government's financial, employment, residential and family support programs.
  • Directory of Special Needs Resources - A list of supports, programs and services for families who have children or adults with special needs. From Special Needs & Moving On.

Produced by Community Living Toronto, where choices change the lives of people with an intellectual disability.

Last Updated: June 6, 2011
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