What if your child has low IQ


There are many signs of low IQ in children. If your child has had difficulty with school performance, getting along with teachers and other students, or is not reaching the developmental milestones for their age, the school may have arranged for various types of testing. There are several tests which measure the child’s intelligence relative to their peers. If this testing reveals your child’s intelligence is below average it is important to understand what this means.

Understanding IQ

Intelligence can be defined as the ability to access, understand critique, manipulate, and apply information in an adaptive and useful manner. IQ, or Intelligence Quotient, is a measure of intelligence primarily in verbal, logical, mathematical, and analytical thinking. A standardized IQ test will measure performance in these areas which are expected for the child’s age group. IQ allows for expression of intelligence relative to age. The normal range of IQ is 90 to 100. Anything below 90 can be cause for concern.

IQ Rating Scale:

200 or above Immeasurable Genius

180-199 Highest genius

166-179 High genius

145-165 Genius

135-144 Highly gifted

125-134 Gifted

111-124 Above average

90-110 Average

89- 71 Borderline Intellectual functioning

50-70 Mild mental retardation

49-50 Moderate mental retardation

20-35 Severe mental retardation

I0 – 20 Profound mental retardation

IQ is one of may success factors in life

IQ determines the learning capabilities

Learning disabilities vs low IQ vs Mental Retardation

Learning disabilities are specific whereas low IQ is global. Someone may have a learning disability for reading, writing, or math, but perform very well outside of these specific academic areas, and will also demonstrate the ability to adapt to their environment in response to change. In other words, they are capable of learning and growing. Here is a conundrum: children that are truly Mentally Retarded will never be able to progress to the normal range of IQ, despite intensive educational and training. MR is a disability which is lifelong. The good news is that there are abundant state and federal resources available to provide support and care for the rest of their lives. They will be regarded with sympathy and kindness by all but the most cruel and insensitive adults and less will be demanded of them.

What I am about to say is grim, but hear me out: Those with borderline intellectual functioning, or an IQ above the MR range, but below normal have a much bleaker outlook. They will not have the physically defining features of the mentally retarded which set them apart and cause people to treat them differently for better or worse. There will be little if anything available in terms of support from the state. Society will hold them as accountable and have the same expectations as people with a normal IQ range, but no matter how hard they try, no matter how many times they are shown how to do something, they will just not be able to perform. They go through life habitually frustrated, unable to do what everyone else seems to be able to do with so little effort, and will have limited prospects for success. Before despairing, here are some important points to consider.

Is the diagnosis accurate, and what are the implications?

The current model of intelligence has come under scrutiny by psychologists and educators. There are those who believe traditional IQ testing and the domains measured are too limited and exclude other types of intelligence. There is also debate as to the value of testing, and the reliability of IQ testing. Someone who is having an exceptionally bad day when they are taking an IQ test could score much lower than their actual intelligence range.

Gardner and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences

There are other measures of intelligence than the traditional IQ test. Howard Gardner (1983) proposed a theory of multiple intelligence, as intelligence can be seen as the ability to develop areas of specific skill sets. This will result in a degree of specialization, where people may have strengths in some areas, but be deficient in others. This does not mean they are dumb; this is a reflection of the objective reality that our minds, although remarkable in their abilities, are still limited.

Gardner (1983) believes there are eight distinct types of intelligence:

  1. 1.Logical-Mathematical- the ability to utilize critical, logical and abstract thought, and to use numbers and quantitative reasoning.
    2.Verbal-linguistic- this is the same type of intelligence measured by one of the components of traditional IQ testing.
    3.Spatial- the ability to understand and judge spatial relationships and being able to accurately form visual imagery
    4.Body Kinesthetic- the ability to move your body in a highly refined and precise manner, e.g., competitive athletes and dancers
    5.Musical- the ability to recognize and utilize sounds, tone, pitch, and music.
    6.Interpersonal- sensitivity to and perception of emotions, motives, temperament and group dynamics.
    7.Intrapersonal the ability to utilize reflection and introspection to understand one’s own emotions, and motivations.
    8.Naturalist- the ability to understand the natural world through recognition of flora and fauna, and working and surviving in the wilderness or other minimal outdoor environment. (Gardner, 1983).
    The summation of your intelligence in these areas is compared to established norms for your age group, which yields your IQ.

Some important consideration if your child has shown the typical signs of low IQ in children or has been tested to have low IQ:

  1. 1) Beware of Labeling effects:
    There are concerns that people who score low on IQ tests may act out a self-fulfilling prophecy, and not pursue education or enrichment which could increase their intelligence. Expectations for them will be lowered, and less will be demanded of them. Opportunities to learn and grow will not be presented (Hickey, 2009).

2) Provide an enriching and educational environment.
This goes back to assuming nothing, and providing every opportunity possible, to avoid the effects of labeling. Maximizing your child’s strengths. Guide your child to try many different activities and explore as much as possible. Find areas they perform well or excel in, and strive to develop these areas as much as possible, this can be a musical instrument, art, sports, being good with animals, woodworking, or cooking or baking. Cultivate their interests.

3) Keeping your child safe
If your child truly has below average intelligence, it will be very important to monitor the friends they choose, especially as they get older. Lower intelligence children will have the same emotional needs as their peers. They will want to be likes, accepted, included, and have lots of friends. They may become indiscriminate in where they find this. There will be cruel children who will use them as a source of entertainment, and as they get older, lure them into delinquent activity. They are also prime targets of bullying.

Lots of patience will be needed

This may be the hardest part. Things will grow very frustrating at times. If your child is of below average intelligence, lots of patience and consistency will be required.


Gardner, Howard (1983) Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences, New York: Basic Books.

Hickey, P. (2009). Mental Retardation: A Stigmatizing Label. Behaviorism and Mental Health. Retrieved September 19, 2018 from http://behaviorismandmentalhealth.com/2009/12/06/mental-retardation-a-stigmatizing-label/

Personality-aptitude-career tests.com. (2018). IQ Rating Scale deciphered! Personality-aptitude-career tests.com. Retrieved September 19, 2018 from IQ Test for Kids