What are Cognitive Deficits or Intellectual Disabilities?
- Cognitive deficits, also called intellectual disability, is a condition beginning in childhood in which people show significant limitations in their ability to learn and function.
- The two systems most commonly used to categorize individuals with intellectual disability are those adopted by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) and the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV-TR).
- The DSM-IV subdivides individuals with intellectual disability into degrees of severity based on their level of impairment (mild, moderate, severe, or profound) in intellectual functioning, while the AAMR classifies individuals on their ability to function in an inclusive environment and defines the degree of severity (intermittent, limited, extensive, or pervasive) based on the patterns and intensity of support needed.
- About 5% of the population have cognitive deficits, and most of these individuals fall into the mild range deficit category.
- Sometimes, children with attention deficits, learning disabilities, communication disorders, or pervasive developmental disorders may be thought to have intellectual disability.
- To make a correct diagnosis, all children with a pattern of delayed or abnormal development or learning should undergo comprehensive psychoeducational testing.
Cognitive Deficits Causes
Cognitive deficits do not have an identifiable cause in many people. However, with comprehensive evaluation, the specific cause of about
a majority of cases of severe deficits can be identified.
The causes of cognitive disabilities are generally divided into prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal factors.
- Prenatal causes (those that occur before birth) may include genetic abnormalities, infections, exposures to substances that causebirth defects, and central nervous system malformationsDown syndrome and fragile X syndrome are among the most common genetic causes of intellectual disability.
- Perinatal causes (those occurring around the time of birth) may include fetal malnutrition, prematurity, and decreased oxygen to the brain.
- Postnatal or acquired causes (those after the newborn period) may include trauma (accidental and nonaccidental), suffocation, infections, toxic ingestions, brain damage, central nervous system tumors orcancer, degenerative disorders, and environmental influences (psychosocial deprivation, severe malnutrition).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/9/2015
Elizabeth A Finley-Belgrad, MD
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