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Including Students with Intellectual Disabilities


Including students with intellectual disabilities…

Students with an ASD and an intellectual disability (I.Q. score of less than 70) most often receive their education in regular classrooms in B.C., often with some support from a teaching assistant. More and more teachers are gaining experience in using strategies to successfully include and educate the ASD student with intellectual disabilities. It can be challenging for teachers to determine how best to address the adaptive skills these students need to learn in the context of an integrated environment.

Common adaptive skills that need to be addressed in students with intellectual disabilities include:

  • communicating with others;
  • social skills (manners, knowing the rules of conversation, getting along in a group, playing a game);
  • reading, writing, and basic math;
  • taking care of personal needs (dressing, bathing, going to the bathroom);
  • health and safety;
  • home living (helping to set the table, cleaning the house, or cooking dinner);
  • workplace skills

If you are new to including a student with ASD and intellectual disabilities in your classroom, the following tips may help:

  • Try not to pre-judge in which activities the student can and cannot participate in the classroom based solely on his current academic abilities or level of intellectual disability. Although the student may not be learning at the same level or learning the same material as other students, inclusion in typical classroom activities can create many opportunities to develop the child’s social and communication skills, as well as his understanding of literacy and numeracy.
  • Use competent and supportive peers to help support the student with intellectual disabilities. Students with average to above average intellectual abilities often benefit greatly by being paired with a student with intellectual disabilities. The pairing can help develop empathy and often increases the helping student’s positive self concept. It can serve as a way to consolidate the typical student’s learning as he helps “teach” the student with disabilities what he knows.
  • Work closely with parents and the school based team to determine priorities for the student included in your classroom. The idea of “starting with the end in mind” is important. Ask each member of the team what they most hope the student will gain during this school year and in the future. Use this information to guide your decisions as to how to include the student in classroom activities.
  • When addressing objectives that fall more in the domain of self care or life skills consider how you might celebrate or include the learning of these skills in the classroom context e.g. if the student is engaged in a cooking program with the support worker, perhaps he can share what he has helped cook with class; if he is working on laundry, perhaps he can be “in charge” of collecting and washing team uniforms or classroom paint shirts.
  • Real inclusion means providing roles that are important and appreciated by others. Point out the strengths and interests of the student with intellectual disabilities to his typical peers. Model and encourage them in acknowledging him when he participates in or contributes to the group.


Check out the following resources for a wealth of ideas on successfully including students with ASD and/or intellectual disabilities in your classroom:

“You’re Going to Love This Kid!”: Teaching Students with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom, Second Edition 2nd Edition