Unspecified intellectual disability is a category of intellectual disability diagnosed in individuals over five years old where the degree of severity cannot be established. Intellectual disability is diagnosed when the individual is seen to have a deficit in both their intellectual abilities and adaptive functioning.
A diagnosis of unspecified intellectual disability is made if it is difficult or impossible to ascertain the level of severity of the condition. This may be for any number of reasons, but can often be due to a co-existing disorder or physical impairment.
The level of severity corresponds to the level of support that would be required for the individual. As such, an unspecified diagnosis should only be used in exceptional circumstances and would require reassessment after a period of time when it might be more likely to test the severity level.
Intellectual ability refers to a persons cognitive capabilities and can include skills in speech, communication, reasoning, logical thinking, problem solving, and judgement among others. A person’s intellectual ability can be measured using an IQ test, although there are some issues regarding this approach. Firstly, IQ tests are seen to be less valid in the lower quadrants of scoring. Secondly, it may not be indicative of real-life scenarios in which an individual may think differently to how they would be in completing a test.
For a person to meet the criteria for intellectual disability, they generally have to score two standard deviations or lower than the general population mean. There are many IQ tests and the way in which they score intelligence varies. However, a person with intellectual disability would generally score between 65-75 or lower if the mean was 100 and the standard deviation was 15 (including a margin of error of +5). Clinical judgement of an IQ score is advised due to the aforementioned reasons.
A persons adaptive functioning is judged across three domains: conceptual, social, and practical.
Conceptual refers to their academic functioning and can cover a person’s competency in maths, language, speech, communication, judgement, problem solving, and acquisition of practical skills, among others.
Social refers to how a person responds in social situations. It covers an individual’s empathy, ability to establish friendships and relationships, awareness of others thoughts, feelings, and emotions, social judgement, and risk awareness, among others.
The practical domain looks at how the individual experiences and responds to daily life situations. It can include their personal care, educational learning, work responsibilities, money, organisation, and self-management of behaviours, among others.
A person with a diagnosis of intellectual disability will be seen to have a deficit in at least one or more of these domains. This will be clinically assessed by a medical professional.
Unspecified Intellectual Disability Diagnosis
There are four levels of severity for intellectual disability:
The severity of the condition is not based on the person’s intellectual function. Instead, it is purely based on their adaptive functioning. This is because adaptive functioning relates to how they are in real life and corresponds to the level of support they would require.
A diagnosis of unspecified intellectual disability is made when it is difficult or impossible to categorise the severity level of the condition. The condition usually co-occurs alongside another condition. It may be that the level of severity cannot be ascertained due to the other condition. Some examples may include blindness, prelingual deafness, locomotor disabilities, severe problem behaviours, or a co-existing mental disorder.
For individuals under the age of five years old, a diagnosis of intellectual disability may not be appropriate. Instead, children under five years old would more likely be diagnosed with global developmental delay (GDD) if they were displaying similar deficits.
Support for Unspecified Intellectual Disability
This guide is for educational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Please contact a doctor or GP if you have specific questions and need professional guidance.
Support for an unspecified intellectual disability diagnosis can be found through Mencap, a charity that provides support, advice, and guidance with all areas relating to learning disabilities.