Intellectual Disability: Tests and Diagnosis

What tests are used to diagnose intellectual disability?

The diagnosis of intellectual disability is made based on the results of cognitive testing (like an IQ test) to measure intelligence, as well as evaluating how a child functions in everyday activities to measure their adaptive skills.

To test for intellectual disability, a qualified psychologist tests children using standardized testing tools. In addition, either the psychologist or developmental pediatrician does tests to evaluate a child’s adaptive skill abilities. These tests are non-invasive and not painful to children. In fact, many of these tests seem like games.

Why choose Children’s Hospital Colorado?

The Child Development Unit at Children’s Colorado has experienced physicians trained in developmental-behavioral pediatrics and neurodevelopmental disabilities. This means our experts have had additional training to evaluate children with a wide range of developmental problems.

We also have experienced licensed clinical psychologists, all of whom have doctoral degrees. Our psychologists have completed additional post-doctoral training in the area of children with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.

What to expect from cognitive testing

Cognitive tests evaluate a child’s knowledge and problems solving skills and assess verbal and non-verbal skills. Different tests are used based on the child’s age and level of functioning. Tests may often appear like play, or may seem similar to school work. Evaluation of a young child may take 2 to 3 hours, while evaluation of an older child may take 4 or more hours.

How do providers at Children’s Colorado make a diagnosis?

It is important to identify children who require additional assessment and to accurately test children who may have an intellectual disability. The results of diagnostic testing will guide recommendations for support and intervention at home, school and in the community. If you are concerned about your child’s developmental progress, you should initially discuss your concerns with your child’s primary care provider.

At the Child Development Unit, we offer coordinated psychological and medical evaluations to provide information about a child’s learning abilities and style, as well as areas of strength and vulnerabilities. Children generally undergo various tests that evaluate their functioning in a number of areas that affect learning. In addition, a medical assessment that includes a physical exam explores current health concerns, past medical history, family and social history. Results of information from the various assessments are combined to determine the diagnosis of intellectual or other developmental disabilities.  

What happens after the tests?

As a result of our findings, recommendations are made about the types of services that may benefit your child. Sometimes, those recommendations include additional medical testing to identify the cause of developmental issues or associated medical conditions.

Not all children require many tests. Some tests may affect the treatment of your child, while others may help identify a specific medical condition related to the diagnosis of intellectual disability. Additional referrals to other providers like, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, geneticists and neurologists may also be recommended.