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The most common causes of intellectual disabilities are:

Genetic conditions. Sometimes an intellectual disability is caused by abnormal genes inherited from parents, errors when genes combine, or other reasons. Examples of genetic conditions are Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, and phenylketonuria (PKU).

Complications during pregnancy. An intellectual disability can result when the baby does not develop inside the mother properly. For example, there may be a problem with the way the baby’s cells divide. A woman who gets an infection like rubella during pregnancy may also have a baby with an intellectual disability. Some medications taken during pregnancy have been linked to increasing the odds of intellectual disabilities in babies.

Problems during birth. If there are complications during labor and birth, such as a baby not getting enough oxygen, he or she may have an intellectual disability.

Diseases or toxic exposure. Diseases like whooping cough, the measles, or meningitis can cause intellectual disabilities. They can also be caused by extreme malnutrition, not getting appropriate medical care, or by being exposed to poisons like lead or mercury.

We know that intellectual disability is not contagious: you can’t catch an intellectual disability from anyone else. We also know it’s not a type of mental illness, like depression. There are no cures for intellectual disability. However, children with intellectual disabilities can learn to do many things. They may just need take more time or learn differently than other children.

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