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Interacting with People with Intellectual Disabilities

The Presidents Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities reported there are 8 million Americans of all ages that have some level of intellectual and developmental disabilities. People with this disability have significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which may have occurred at birth, in childhood or before 18 years of age. These conditions include spinal cord injury, Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. People with intellectual disability may have advanced intellectual skills but limited speech and social, or physical function. 70% of people with developmental disabilities also have mental retardation. Positive etiquette with people who have developmental disability include the following:

  • Talk to the person directly, not through a companion or family member
  • Be patient. Give instructions one at a time
  • Don’t be condescending or patronizing
  • Provide opportunities for participation in church activities by giving simple basic tasks:
    • Example: Distributing bulletins and other materials to the congregation
  • Find concrete ways to assist before, during and after church service
    • Assign a peer aide to assist during services.
    • Offer an older child the opportunity to assist with younger children – cutting and pasting projects, reading, and straightening the room.
Accessibility Changes
  • Visit home first to establish a relationship with the family
  • Offer respite care for the family or caregiver
  • Train members, class teachers and students on offering support, guidance and direction



Bethesda Lutheran Ministries Communities
Bethesda Lutheran Ministries mission is to enhance the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through services that share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Friendship Ministries
Friendship Ministries is a non-profit organization that helps churches and organizations around the world share God’s love with people who have intellectual disabilities.