Back to tips

What you need to know about intellectual disability

Drawing of a man brooming inside an head

Are you a caregiver for a child or a person with an intellectual disability?

Here is information on intellectual disabilities, tips for coping with daily life and resources to help you prepare for your care receiver or your child’s transition to adulthood and other important life milestones.

default image

What must I know about intellectual disability?

Intellectual disability is characterized by significant limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behaviour, which are manifested in conceptual, social and practical skills.

The person may have limited intellectual functioning in some or all of the following areas: reasoning, problem solving, planning, abstract thinking, judgment, academic and experiential learning, as well as practical understanding.

With respect to adaptive behaviour, some limitations may relate to their:

  • conceptual skills (language, reading and writing, money, time, and mathematical concepts)
  • social skills (interpersonal relationships, social responsibility)
  • practical skills (daily activities, occupational, safety, health, travel/transportation, telephone use).

The person with an intellectual disability experiences difficulties in meeting the demands of daily activities. They have the ability to learn at their own pace. They may perceive their difference in the eyes of others and may be affected by it.

Age group

Progression and challenges

0 to 6 years old

Progression: developmental deficiencies become apparent. Individualized learning strategies.

Challenges: diagnosis and announcement of the diagnosis, evaluation and monitoring of associated conditions and comorbidities, grieving process, learning coping strategies, development of the attachment bond and inclusion in the family, transition to daycare and school, identifying resources, learning to ask for help and the relationship with professionals.

From 6 to 12 years of age

Progression: school, learning how to function outside the family, learning about social relationships and friendships, pursuing interests and hobbies, psychosexual development. Often the child enjoys playing with younger friends.

Challenges: health monitoring, school bullying risk management, preparation for the transition to high school.

From 12 to 18/21 years of age

Progression: adolescence and puberty, transition to high school, inclusion in sports, leisure or artistic activities, learning about social relationships, friendships and intimacy.

Challenges: preparation for the transition From School to Active Life (TSAL), changes in health and social services programs and services at age 18, end of school, health monitoring, implementation of interventions to develop self-determination, autonomy and power to act, sex education, awareness of consent, risk of sexual abuse and bullying.

Adult life

Progression: when possible, socio-professional integration, living in a supervised apartment, promoting autonomy.

Challenges: management of personal finances, search for opportunities for self-fulfillment through certain activities (art, sports), support or protection mandate.

Seniors (55 years and older)

Progression: Aging is observed around the age of 55. The normal age-related changes exacerbate existing limitations. Physical and sensory decline, chronic diseases, age-related illnesses, amplified by obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Choice of adapted housing. Daily life with deceased or very elderly parents.

Challenges: autonomy, maintenance of well-being, quality of life and social networks, medical follow-up, integration into society and development of rewarding activities, preventive adaptation of the physical environment, preparation for retirement.


Intellectual disability is not an illness, it is a permanent condition. A person’s abilities can improve if they receive support and guidance during all stages of their life. If you have concerns about your child’s development, do not hesitate to consult a professional; early diagnosis is important.

In general, the person’s progress depends on the following elements:

  • The rapidity of the diagnosis (in French only);
  • The severity of the intellectual disability, the need for daily assistance and support and access to resources and services to meet these needs;
  • Associated or concomitant conditions, such as motor impairment (cerebral palsy), communication issues, epilepsy, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), behavioural issues, psychological issues or other health issues (digestive, hearing, vision, heart issues, infections);
  • Family history, family values and attitudes, resilience of parents and child, socioeconomic conditions.

Contact the ID-PD-ASD access point in your area and find out about the Québec government’s Agir tôt program.

Questions and possible solutions

When does intellectual disability become evident?

Before the age of 18.

How do you prepare for the transition to adulthood?

Transitions are often challenging times. It is recommended to start early to prepare for the transition from school to work. There is the age of majority at 18 and the end of compulsory education at 21.

At age 17, you can begin the process of opening a protection plan and learn about the new assistance plan for people of full age proposed by the Curateur public du Québec. In 2021, notary Joanie Lalonde-Piecharski published a book entitled Au-delà des 18 ans. Préparer le passage à l’adulte et l’avenir de votre enfant différent (Preparing for the transition to adulthood and the future of your special child).

We are parents of a child with ID. What should we do?

Recognize yourself as a caregiver of a person with an intellectual disability. This crucial step would put you in touch with other caregivers who are familiar with your reality and who, like you, are grappling with the challenges of daily life, communication with the family member, managing behaviours and the subject of sexuality. You can also join support groups or seek advice from telephone helplines.

My child has an intellectual disability. Am I a caregiver?

If you are caring for him or her, yes!

At all stages of your child’s life, your main challenge is and will be access to resources and services for both you and your child, as well as support from the health care system, community organizations and parent groups.

What will happen to my child after I die? How can I make sure that he or she will be happy and have the best possible life?

One key word: anticipate! In addition to the administrative aspects, think about the role of siblings, registration on a waiting list for another living arrangement and employment integration.

And employment?

For the person you are caring for, employment can be a step towards independence, developing certain skills and recognizing their strengths. Together, you can explore their socio-professional interests and learn about work integration options.


The majority of people with intellectual disability have a mild (85%) or moderate (10%) disability. A smaller number of people live with a severe (3.5%) or profound (1.5%) disability.

Is intellectual disability a mental health issue?

No, although some people do have both intellectual disabilities and mental health issues.

Where can I find answers to the thousand questions I have in mind?

The Quebec Intellectual Disability Society discusses other frequently asked questions about intellectual disabilities.

format_list_bulleted See all tips

Need to talk?

Contact our Caregiver Support Helpline for counselling, information and referrals.

Every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Free of charge.

call  Caregiver info :  1 855 852-7784
Live Chat