Areas of Development

Cognitive development refers to increasing skills in areas such as ‘thinking’, problem-solving, memory and concentration. As a person develops they are able to pay attention for longer periods, remember more information and understand more complicated concepts. A person with intellectual disability may be more able to recall and understand things that they can see or are familiar with such as a favourite toy or a parent. They may have difficulty understanding more abstract concepts and talking about things they cannot see, for example time.

Communication development refers to talking and listening skills and can include the ability to write. Communication therefore relates to how people understand and use language, how they let others know what they want, how they follow instructions and whether they read or write. A person with intellectual disability may have a short attention span for their age and may only be able to follow directions with one or two steps. Many people with intellectual disability can benefit from the use of visual prompts such as pictures to assist with communication.

Physical development includes fine motor skills, that is how a person handles objects and uses their hands. Gross motor skills refers to the bigger movements of the body, such as walking, jumping, going up and down stairs, throwing and catching, coordination between arms and legs. These skills are necessary for many daily living and personal care tasks. A person with intellectual disability may have some physical difficulties that impact on doing activities independently. For example, they may require assistance with fine motor tasks such as managing buttons and zips; or with gross motor skills such as sweeping and vacuuming.

Sensory development refers to the integration of sensation such as touch and body awareness, and how we use this information to respond to the world around us. Sensory development is linked to all other areas of development. Sensory processing relates to an individual’s ability to watch, listen, notice and respond to cues within a task or their surroundings. For example, the ability to notice (look and hear) when the contents of the pot are starting to simmer; smell that the toast is cooking; and hear and pay attention when another person is speaking. A person with intellectual disability may have difficulty understanding information from their senses.

Social & Emotional
Social and emotional development refers to how a person relates and interacts with others, for example making friends, playing and socialising. It involves the understanding of feelings and emotions both within themselves and recognising these in other people.

For example, a person with intellectual disability may have difficulty understanding that other people have different thoughts to them; or how to start and maintain a conversation with another person, which may mean they need extra support to develop friendships. However, people with intellectual disability have the same need for positive relationships, love and affection as all other people.

Activities of daily living
Activities of daily living refer to self-care activities such as the ability to dress, shower, and brush hair. It can also include chores such as making the bed, tidying up a bedroom or washing the dishes. For adults, community activities such as catching a bus and shopping for groceries are also part of activities of daily living. A person with intellectual disability may have difficulty organising, sequencing and problem-solving within these types of activities.