Sunday, January 31, 2010

Get the facts: An Introduction to Intellectual Disabilities

We have all known, seen, or been exposed to someone with an intellectual disability at some point in our life. The term "intellectual disability" is a term used to define a population of people with some type of disability. According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), an intellectual disability or mental retardation is a particular state of functioning that begins in childhood before the age of 18 and is characterized by significant limitations in both intelligence and adaptive skills. Of the total population of individuals with an intellectual disability, approximately 87 percent are mildly affected, 10 percent have moderate disabilities, and only three percent have severe or profound intellectual disabilities. (AAIDD 2007).

There are numerous causes of intellectual disabilities. It can be caused by any condition which impairs the development of the brain before birth, during birth, or during a person's young childhood years. Although a couple hundred causes have already been discovered, about one-third of all causes still remain unknown. Today, the three major causes of intellectual disabilities are Down Syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, and fragile X. The main causes of these include: genetic conditions, problems during pregnancy, problems at birth, problems after birth, or poverty and cultural deprivation.

For the past two years I have served as the College Buddy Director (CBD) for Best Buddies International. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of individuals living with an intellectual disability by providing them with opportunities for one-to-one friendships and integrated employment. Even though Best Buddies has grown tremendously still it first began in 1989, most of the country still lack programs to help people with intellectual disabilities become a part of mainstream society.

Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the past decade for everyone. Especially for individuals with intellectual disabilities, technology has provided them with many possibilities that would have otherwise been impossible. When people with intellectual disabilities are unable to secure or maintain a job, it is most often due to a lack of social skills rather than an inability to perform the work required. Best Buddies takes it upon itself to introduce socialization opportunities and job coaching, providing the necessary tools for people with intellectual disabilities to become more independent and for them to feel more included in their community. One such program is the e-Buddies program where friendships are created online between people with and without intellectual disabilities. e-Buddies (a pair where one has a disability and the other does not) correspond at least once a week through e-mail and this program offers the Buddy (person with the intellectual disability) exposure to using a computer and improving upon their friendship skills as well. Working on their computer skills for a few minutes a week can significantly enrich the lives of the participants.

Over the next few weeks I will be introducing you to the stories of several individuals that I have come across during my term as CBD. All of these individuals are living with some type of disability but they have all been impacted in some way by technology. Their life stories are that of hardship, determination, and courage and they are likely to impact you as much as they have changed me for the better.

Best Buddies Baltimore Chapter-Group Picture

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