Wellness

We Aren't As Informed About Intellectual Disabilities As We Think We Are

An astonishing 18 percent of Americans say they have never even heard of an intellectual disability.

Nearly half of the American population doesn't personally know someone with an intellectual disability, and that's a problem.

A groundbreaking poll released on the eve of this summer's Special Olympics World Games revealed that personal experience with people with intellectual disabilities strongly influences the ways people perceive such conditions. While exposure to those who have ID helps us understand the issues they face and interact with them in a more positive manner, a lack of exposure exacerbates our fears and increases our misunderstandings of ID in a harmful way.

The Shriver Report Snapshot: Insight into Intellectual Disabilities in the 21 Century, which was conducted in July by Harris Poll for The Special Olympic International World Games and Shriver Media, compiled online surveys from 2,021 U.S. adults aged 18 and older. They were asked about their experience with people who have ID, feelings about their own intelligence, how ID impacts their feelings about having children, how they feel about the "R" word, and whether they believe children with ID should be treated differently in our society.

The majority of Americans -- 56 percent -- do know someone with ID, and they are three times more comfortable with the situation because of that exposure, as well as twice as likely to understand the facts behind ID. Millennial women in particular are leading the country with high levels of scientific knowledge of these issues and compassion for those who need it.

On the other hand, Americans with no exposure to someone with ID tend to cling to harmful judgments and stereotypes, and are three times less likely to find the "R" word offensive in any context. An astonishing 18 percent say they have never even heard of an intellectual disability.

According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, ID arises in adolescents before the age of 18 and is characterized by substantial limitations with both intellectual function (they have an IQ of less than 70) and adaptive behavior, both of which are necessary in everyday social and practical situations. Conditions considered intellectual disabilities include Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Prader-Willi, and Williams syndrome; ID is sometimes caused by or may accompany autism spectrum disorders, Apert syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, phenylketonuria and cerebral palsy.
It's with this polling data -- and their #LetsChangetheGameChallenge -- that the Special Olympics and Shriver Media hope to continue educating the country about ID, creating an inclusive space for those living with them.

"We thought it was a critical time to take a deep dive into our national attitudes," Maria Shriver, the founder of Shriver Media, said in a statement. "We wanted to know where we are today, where we are going and who is going to take us there. The open-minded attitudes of this generation who grew up in classrooms and playing sports with people with ID makes an undeniable case for inclusion... Experience, inclusion and intervention are the ways to combat isolation, intolerance and injustice."

Check out the infographic below from The Shriver Report Snapshot for additional statistics regarding how our experience with and knowledge of intellectual disabilities impacts those dealing with them on a daily basis.

Correction: A previous version of this post characterized several conditions that may cause or be accompanied by ID as intellectual disabilities. This language has been changed.

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