Mental health problems in adults with intellectual disabilities.

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According to the American Psychiatric Association, Intellectual disabilities consist of issues with general mental abilities that impact functioning intellectually and adaptively. The former involves skills like learning, problem solving, planning, organizing, etc. The latter involves activities that affect daily functioning such as independent living, communication of one’s needs and communication in general.
A diagnosis is made by psychometric measures such as IQ tests that are administered by qualified and experienced mental health professionals.

Broadly the following areas are considered (that are a part of adaptive functioning):

- Social skills. These include aspects like empathy, communication, comprehension of social norms, and behaviour.

- Practical skills. This includes skills like money management, organization and planning, time management, personal care, and hygiene, adhering to job requirements, etc.
- Conceptual skills. This includes reading, writing, basic calculations, language skills, reasoning, and memory.

Adaptive functioning is assessed via standardized measures with the individual and interviews with other relevant individuals in their life, such as family members, teachers, and/or caregivers.

The results of the tests are then explained and discussed with the individual and their caregivers with the mental health professionals involved (the psychologists, psychiatrists, etc.). The way forward is then outlined in a collaborative and sensitive manner- this could be continued special education, vocational training, and guidance, occupational therapy, or behaviour modification sessions.

According to the World Health Organisation, there are approximately 100 million people, worldwide, with intellectual disabilities i.e. those who are neurodivergent. In 2018, data showed that there are 21 million people in India, with intellectual disabilities.

Those with intellectual disabilities are more likely to have health risks that may be significant. Physical health risks include diabetes, obesity, heart, and respiratory diseases, and a generally shorter life expectancy. There will also be age related concerns like Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinsons.

There are mental health and/or neurodevelopmental concerns that can be co-occurring / are comorbid in individuals with intellectual disabilities. This can include but is not limited to autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, ADHD, mood disorders (such as depression), and anxiety (to name a few examples).

In adults with intellectual disabilities, it can be challenging to identify and explore what’s going on for the individual if they have limited verbal abilities. Here the caregivers play an important role in communication. These mental health problems in individuals with intellectual disabilities can also be missed as a result.

Mental Health professionals handling care for individuals with intellectual disabilities need to be equipped with the sensitivity and skills to identify and correctly diagnose these co-occurring conditions. This is doubly important as it will determine the line of treatment and impact the individual’s life, in all aspects.

Also read,

How is ADHD different in adults from children? Looking for a doctor who specializes in adult ADHD in Mumbai?

Autism in adults. Find the best therapist for autism.

Image credits - Freepik

Dishaa Desai
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