Intellectual disabilities

Students with intellectual disabilities represent a diverse group of learners. Like many students, they bring unique challenges, skills, preferences and experiences. 

The American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities defines an intellectual disability as a disability characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning (reasoning, learning, problem-solving) and in adaptive behavior, which covers a range of everyday social and practical skills. This disability originates before the age of 18.


The resources listed here represent current research in education, instructional strategies and skill development for promoting meaningful instruction and post-school outcomes for people with intellectual disabilities.

  • The Virginia Alternate Assessment Program is designed to evaluate the performance of students with significant cognitive disabilities who are working on academic standards that have been reduced in complexity and depth. This content is derived from the Standards of Learning and is referred to as the Aligned Standards of Learning. Students in grades 3-8 who are participating in the VAAP are required to submit evidence in the same subject areas as required of their non-disabled peers in the same grade level. High School students participating in the VAAP are required to submit evidence in reading, writing, mathematics, science and history/social sciences by the end of their completion of grade 11 or on a schedule identified by local school divisions.

  • The Applied Studies Diploma is an option available to students identified as having a disability who complete the requirements of their individualized education programs and meet certain requirements prescribed by the Board of Education pursuant to regulations, but do not meet the requirements for any named diploma. The Applied Studies Curriculum Map consists of a guide and six domains that outline skills and competencies that IEP teams can use to identify the need for additional instruction to assist students in meeting their postsecondary goals.

  • Assistive Technology Network of Virginia addresses priorities of Virginia Department of Education with coordination, implementation and dissemination of information about the laws which define AT devices and services, the process of AT Consideration by Individualized Education Program teams, AT assessment, Augmentative and Augmentative Communication and AT resources.

  • Center for Family Involvement at the Partnership for People with Disabilities at VCU partners with the Virginia departments of Education and Health, the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau, the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and others in supporting a variety of activities to strengthen family involvement.

  • TTAC Online is a web-based community linking people and resources to help children and youth with disabilities (birth to 22). It is available 24/7 to teachers, other professionals and families. TTAC Online is a place to search a wide range of resources by age level, category, disability area or topic. It is categorized into Virginia projects, Virginia assessments, disability info, resources, events and online training. On the teaching process page, teachers who work with students who are being assessed using the Virginia Alternative Assessment Program can find additional information.

  • VCU Center on Transition and Innovations provides information, resources, demonstration and research on pathways to employment that support youth with disabilities to gain access to integrated competitive employment to the fullest extent possible. Through participation in evidence-based employment and work experience models, higher education or postsecondary education training, youth can become integral members of their communities.

  • VDOE's T/TAC at VCU’s Library houses a wide variety of assessment instruments, resources, book studies, assistive technology and informational texts addressing the needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities available for Virginia's superintendent's regions 1 and 8.

  • Virginia Board for People with Disabilities advises the governor, the secretary of health and human resources, federal and state legislators, and other constituent groups on issues related to people with disabilities in Virginia. They work for the benefit of individuals with DD and their families to identify needs and help develop policies, programs and services that will meet these needs in a manner that respects dignity and independence.

  • Virginia Family Special Education Connection is funded through the Virginia Department of Education and is designed to provide families with critical and practical information regarding special education services in Virginia. The website aims to provide a one-stop shop for community, educational, family life and legislative resources to support families and caregivers, as their children progress through school with special education services and then transition into adulthood.

Instructional resources

  • Accessible Instructional Materials is a free program sponsored by the Virginia Department of Education. It produces and provides accessible instructional materials in audio, braille, large print and electronic files to support eligible Virginia K-12 students who have an Individualized Education Program and are unable to access traditional print.

  • Center for Literacy and Disability Studies is a unit within the Department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, School of Medicine. They provide links and resources to meet the literacy learning needs of persons with disabilities of all ages. They also have developed a website with professional development modules on emergent and conventional literacy instruction, core word instruction, and other topics relevant to students with intellectual disabilities.

  • Paths to Literacy is an interactive community of practice where educators and families can find and share activities, resources and other ideas related to all aspects of literacy for children who are blind or visually impaired, including those with deafblindness or multiple disabilities.

  • The Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities provides adapted literature resources for teachers to help students with severe disabilities participate in the general curriculum. Many titles available are trade books found on reading lists for general education classrooms. You will need the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader to open PDF documents.

  • Tar Heel Reader is a collection of free, easy-to-read and accessible books on a wide range of topics. Each book can be speech enabled and accessed using multiple interfaces, including touch screens, and one to three switches. Exemplar text — accessible, open-source texts that you and your students can read online, on a reader that uses epub files or offline as PowerPoint files or printed versions of the books — can also be found on Tar Heel Reader.

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