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Intellectual Functioning

Intellectual Disability


What is Intellectual Functioning?


Diagnostic Contexts

In a diagnostic context, standardized IQ tests are typically used to establish significant limitations in intellectual functioning.

Applied Contexts

In applied contexts, the term intellectual functioning has a broader meaning. The term intellectual functioning incorporates 

  • Common characteristics of intelligence (reasoning, planning, problem solving, abstract thinking, understanding complex ideas, learning quickly, and learning from experience),
  • Abilities measured by IQ tests (language skills, mathematical abilities, memory, and spatial visualization), and the
  • Notion that cognitive functioning is influenced by other forms of human functioning and systems of supports

In these contexts, intellectual functioning is a broader than intelligence but narrower than human functioning.

Why Consider Intellectual Functioning Beyond IQ?

Intellectual functioning can be thought of as an expression of the condition of intellectual disability that exists within the interaction of the person's human functions, their systems of support, and their outcomes. 

The assumptions underlying evaluation in the broader context considers a person's current functioning:   

  • Within the context of the person's community and peers.
  • In relation to cultural and linguistic factors, along with differences in communication, sensory, motor, or behavioral factors.
  • With the knowledge that all people have co-existing limitations and strengths.
  • To identify limitations with sufficient precision to be able to develop a profile of needed supports.
  • With the expectation that a person's life functioning will improve with the provision of appropriate supports over a sustained period.


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