About intellectual disability

Students with intellectual disability find it harder to learn, which means they need extra time and help to learn new skills. While intellectual disability can look different from one student to another, students with intellectual disability may experience differences in their:

Thinking and organisation

Students with intellectual disability will typically experience difficulties in some form with thinking skills, such as attention, reasoning, problem solving, memory, planning, and judgement 
(for example, understanding and predicting risks). 

This can impact the speed or way in which they best learn, and they tend to need extra time and help to learn new skills or knowledge (for example, reading, mathematics). 

Some students may be easily distracted and need support with organisation, or they may find instructions with several steps hard to follow. 

Students with intellectual disability often prefer concrete learning tasks, and multi-modal or hands-on learning tasks.

Practical skills

Some students may need support and lots of opportunities to practise practical skills, such as dressing, eating or toileting, or telling the time and handling money.

Communication and social skills

Students with intellectual disability may seem socially immature for their age, and they may find it difficult to understand and respond to body language (for example, facial expression, gestures, standing close to peers). Some students might have lots of language and others might only use a few words or no words.

Emotions and behaviour

Some students can find it challenging to manage their emotions and behaviour, or to recognise and respond to the emotions of others. Some students may be gentle and calm, while others may become frustrated or distressed, or engage in behaviours of concern. 

Students with intellectual disability may experience low self-confidence or depression, anxiety, or frustration if they consistently find they are unable to complete a task or their needs are not met.

Health and movement

Some students may tire easily, particularly when there are many demands on them. They may find some motor skills difficult. Some may also be restless, or overactive.


Students with an intellectual disability may find is easier to remember visual information, such as written letters or numbers, and pictures. This may mean that work presented visually may help some students learn.

Similarly, students with an intellectual disability may be able to recognise words, letters and numbers and name them aloud. This may mean that some students with an intellectual disability are able to read words that rely more on recognition than on ‘sounding out’.

Example of practice: intellectual disability

Learn about Bella's experience in the classroom.

School Excellence Framework alignment

Wellbeing, Curriculum, Effective classroom practice

Australian Professional Standards for Teachers alignment

Standard 1: Know students and how they learn


Secondary teachers


Strategies to support students with intellectual disability. Including: Evidence-based practices, best practice tips, curriculum considerations and other considerations for teachers of students with intellectual disability.


November 2021. Share your feedback here