Discuss and include reasons: what should the academic focus be for students with mild intellectual disabilities?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In order to answer this, we first have to be clear on the meaning of the term “mild intellectual disability.”  We have to be sure to understand that this is not the same thing as a learning disability such as dyslexia.  Instead, a “mild intellectual disability” is what was once called “mental retardation” in a less sensitive time in our history.  Mild intellectual disability is a term that is now used to cover people who have an intelligence quotient (IQ) in the range of 50 to 70. 

For such people, I would argue that the appropriate academic focus is on life skills and vocational education.  This is because people with mild intellectual disabilities will have a very hard time achieving a high level of education.  For example, the link below tells us that people with this type of intellectual disability can eventually learn to read and do math at somewhere between a third grade and a sixth grade level.  This means that this population of students will not realistically be able to do high school-level work.  For this reason, I would argue that this population needs to focus on life and vocational skills.  A person with 4th or 5th grade math skills should be able to learn to do important things like balancing a checkbook or reading a job application.  They should be able to learn to figure out whether they can afford a certain food and drink combination given the amount of money they have in their pocket.  These are things that will allow them to function well in society.

Since people with mild intellectual disabilities cannot really aspire to do academic work even at a junior high-level, they should not be pushed to try things that are too far beyond them.  They should work on math and reading at levels that will help them get by in society.  They should be able to take classes in the arts that will enrich their lives.  However, it does not make sense to try to get them to learn algebra or to read Shakespeare.  These things are typically beyond the abilities of people with mild intellectual disabilities and it does not, in my mind, do any good to ask that population to attempt them.  

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