A-Z List

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Previously termed Mental Retardation (The designation Cognitive Disability is used in the state of Wisconsin in public school settings. Within the literature, the designation Cognitive Disability actually references any type of cognitive problem, regardless of age of onset, and is not necessarily developmental in nature.)

Goals and Methodologies

Author Unknown - May 9, 2000

"Mental retardation refers to substantial limitations in present functioning. It is characterized by significantly subaverage intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with related limitations in two or more of the following applicable adaptive skill areas: communication, self-care, home living, social skills, community use, self-direction, health and safety, functional academics, leisure, and work. Mental retardation manifests itself before age 18." (p.1)

Source: Definition, Classification, and Systems of Supports: by Luckason, R., Schalock, R. L., Snell, M. E., Spitalnik, D. M., and Stark, J. A., Washington, DC: American Association on Metal Retardation.

Problem Areas, Goals and Activities


Many persons who are severely and profoundly mentally retarded have other health problems that interfere with their ability to acquire speech and speech that can be understood. Alternative methods for communication may be necessary.

Goal: To establish contact with the client and to be sure that the client is able to understand the therapist.

Activity: Use a simple song that asks the client to respond either verbally or nonverbally to actions suggested in the song.


Persons who are severely and profoundly mentally retarded also have problems in acquiring language. They may have delayed language or may not develop any language at all. Some of the language problems are tied to their impaired cognitive ability. They may use and understand a limited number of words.

Goal: To develop the necessary language needed to communicate needs and wants to other people.

Activity: Use a song that asks the client to make a choice and then have the client communicate this choice using either verbal or nonverbal means of communication. The song could also be used to have the client express how he/she is feeling today.

Motor skills:

Persons who are severely and profoundly mentally retarded may have problems with gross and fine motor skills. They may need basic skills for getting dressed and knowledge of the procedures for getting dressed.

Goal: To be able to put clothes on in the correct order and also button shirt and tie shoelaces.

Activity: Practice the fine motor movements involved in buttoning a shirt and tying shoelaces. Music can be used a reinforcer in these activities. Then use a song that tells the procedure for getting dressed by sequencing lyrics in the form of task analysis. Work on memorizing the song so the client can begin to do more on his or her own.

Community-Based Skills:

Many people who are severely and profoundly mentally retarded need a high level of support and need to use community services.

Goal: To become aware of the services offered in the client’s community and how to use those services.

Activity: Use songs to memorize information about the different resources the client is able to use in the community and the ways of contacting them.

Activity: Use a song to become familiar with the city bus services or taxi and the procedures necessary to get to a few places the client needs to go.

Social Skills:

Many persons who are severely and profoundly mentally retarded do not live by themselves but with others who are mentally retarded. They need to develop an effective communication system along with the social skills that are necessary for interaction.

Goal: Once a communication system has been established, work on the basic social skills such as turn taking, being a good listener and showing interest in others.

Activity: Use a song in which the music therapist and client need to take turns singing segments of it or simply split a song into parts that will be sung by both people. At the end of the song, have the client tell something that was included in the lyrics.

Health and Safety:

People need to be able to express how they are feeling if they are sick, and they need to know what to do to get basic emergency help.

Goal: To be able to tell how the client is feeling when he or she is sick.

Activity: Use a song in which the client can choose different ways of feeling that day. If the client is sick, a song could be used to remind the client to take medication and to tell the frequency of taking it and the amount of medication necessary.

Goal: To become familiar with the basic emergency system in the client’s town and how to access it.

Activity: Use a song that describes what you do in an emergency and includes the area’s 911 (or similar) emergency number.