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Intellectual Disabilities
Basic Information
Introduction to Intellectual DisabilitiesCauses of Intellectual DisabilitiesDiagnosis of Intellectual DisabilitiesHistorical & Contemporary Perspectives of Intellectual DisabilitiesIntellectual Disabilities & Supportive RehabilitationSupport for Families of People with Intellectual DisabilitiesIntellectual Disabilities Summary & ConclusionIntellectual Disabilities Resources & References
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Childhood Mental Disorders and Illnesses

Therapies for Intellectual Disabilities and Outdated/Unproven Treatments

Tammy Reynolds, B.A., C.E. Zupanick, Psy.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Various therapeutic services can improve a person's adaptive behavioral skills. These therapies are helpful for many people with intellectual disabilities (ID, formerly mental retardation).

Occupational therapy

  • Meaningful and purposeful activities;
  • Self-care (e.g., grooming, dressing, feeding, bathing);
  • Employment activities and skills;
  • Leisure activities (e.g., knitting, playing games);
  • Domestic activities (e.g., cooking, cleaning, laundry).

Speech therapy

  • Improves communication skills;
  • Improves receptive and expressive languages skills;
  • Improves speech articulation;
  • Improves vocabulary.

Physical therapy

  • Enhances quality of life by maximizing mobility and self-locomotion;
  • Provides adaptive solutions to mobility problems;
  • Increases sensory integration

Outdated, Unproven 'Treatments' for Intellectual Disabilities

red no signEffective skills training and educational approaches for people with intellectual disabilities (ID, formerly mental retardation) have already been discussed. These approaches are concrete, systematic, and straightforward. These evidence-based practices are supported by a large body scientific research. In this section, we review several so-called 'treatments.' As we have emphasized, there is no 'treatment' for a disability. At best, some medical treatments are effective at reducing the symptoms of the conditions causing the disability. Nonetheless, unsubstantiated claims are made about alternative treatments. There are no reliable research studies to support claims of effectiveness.

Orthomolecular therapy: We all know diet and nutrition are important for good health. Just like many other folks, some people with IDs don't eat a healthy diet. In these cases, nutritional supplements may be beneficial. However, diet and nutritional supplements have not been proven to enhance cognitive functioning, performance, or learning in individuals with IDs. Orthomolecular therapy claims vitamins and minerals can treat (reverse) a number of different conditions including IDs. Proponents of orthomolecular therapy contend that cognitive disorders can be improved by 'molecular balance' via nutritional supplements. These claims have not been substantiated using accepted scientific methods.

Medications: Medications are legitimately prescribed when neurocognitive disorders are the root cause of the disability. Currently, no medication can treat the entire spectrum of disorders that cause IDs. Nonetheless, the use of "nootropic" medicines (i.e., 'smart drugs') to improve people's learning abilities is a growing area of interest. At this time, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that nootropic drugs facilitate learning in persons with IDs.

Talk therapy: Talk therapy refers to psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is useful for many psychiatric disorders. However, psychotherapy cannot treat, arrest, or cure disabilities. Some types of psychotherapy may be a helpful adjunct for some people with mild ID, and who have psychiatric disorder such as depression. Nonetheless, psychotherapies have not proven effective for people with ID. Such therapies rely on a person's cognitive, emotional, and verbal abilities in order to promote change. Therefore, people with ID are not good candidates for such therapies.

Genetic manipulations: Someday it may be possible to use genetic manipulations. This area of research attempts to correct the genetic causes of some IDs. However, this promising area of research is still in its infancy.