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Intellectual Disability

Although speech-language pathologists (SLPs) do not diagnose ID themselves, they play a key role in assessing the communication skills of individuals with ID, and they may be part of a team making a differential diagnosis between ID and ASD or other conditions.

SLPs also play a role in enhancing adaptive communication functioning, as many of the adaptive skill areas rely on communication abilities. For example, conceptual skills include receptive and expressive language, reading, and writing; social skills include interpersonal skills, following laws, and problem solving; and practical skills include following routines, using the telephone, and using social media.

The professional roles and activities in speech-language pathology include clinical/educational services (assessment, planning, and treatment); prevention and advocacy; and education, administration, and research. See ASHA's Scope of Practice in Speech-Language Pathology (ASHA, 2016b).

Appropriate roles for SLPs include the following:

  • Provide information to individuals and groups known to be at risk for ID, to their family members, and to individuals working with those at risk;
  • Screen individuals who may have hearing, speech, language, communication, and/or swallowing difficulties and determine the need for further assessment and/or referral for other services;
  • Conduct a culturally and linguistically relevant and age-appropriate assessment of speech, language, communication, and swallowing, using formal and informal tools;
  • Assess the need for AAC services and supports;
  • Determine eligibility for speech and language services;
  • Refer to other professionals to rule out other conditions, determine etiology, and facilitate access to comprehensive services;
  • Promote early identification of DDs and help to implement services to maximize the potential of young children;
  • Partner with families in assessment and intervention with individuals with ID;
  • Participate as a member of the school planning team (e.g., whose members include parents, teachers, special educators, counselors, and psychologists) to determine appropriate educational services;
  • Make decisions about the management of communication deficits in persons with ID;
  • Develop treatment plans for speech and language services, including social language goals and goals for assisting with self-regulatory and social interactive functions to enable participation in daily activities and curriculum to as great an extent as possible;
  • Provide treatment, document progress, and determine appropriate dismissal criteria;
  • Counsel persons with ID and their families regarding communication-related issues and provide education aimed at enhancing communication development and preventing further complications related to ID;
  • Educate other professionals on the needs of persons with ID and the role of SLPs in diagnosing and managing communication deficits of those with ID;
  • Collaborate with parents, teachers, caregivers, job coaches, peers, and others to promote communication development and use in individuals with ID;
  • Serve as an integral member of a team working with individuals with ID and their families/caregivers and, when appropriate, considering transition planning;
  • Support students with ID throughout their school years and in postsecondary education settings;
  • Support individuals with ID in vocational and community settings;
  • Consult and collaborate with other professionals, family members, caregivers, and others to facilitate program development and to provide supervision, evaluation, and/or expert testimony, as appropriate;
  • Remain informed of research in the area of ID and helping advance the knowledge base related to the nature and treatment of ID;
  • Advocate for individuals with ID and their families at the local, state, and national levels; and
  • provide quality control and risk management.

As indicated in the Code of Ethics (ASHA, 2016a), SLPs who serve individuals with ID should be specifically educated and appropriately trained to do so.

Content Disclaimer: The Practice Portal, ASHA policy documents, and guidelines contain information for use in all settings; however, members must consider all applicable local, state and federal requirements when applying the information in their specific work setting.