School is often a challenging time for young people with intellectual disability, and many do not get the basic education they need to prepare them for adult life in the community. Approximately 60 percent of people with intellectual disability have severe communication limitations, and it is common for young people to leave school without basic levels of literacy and numeracy (AIHW, 2008).
Compared with students with physical disabilities, students with intellectual disability often require more help to learn and participate socially in the school environment. Many children who start school in ordinary classes are placed in special education classes by their fifth year at school. Those who do not transition to special classes usually receive little extra support with their schooling (AIHW, 2008).
Issues of school culture and environment can have a big impact on a young person’s ability to get the most out of their education opportunities. Common issues like bullying, segregation/congregation, stigmatisation and discrimination contribute to poorer educational outcomes for young people with intellectual disability. Issues of class and socio-economic status are also important: young people with intellectual disability who have supportive, well-resourced families and good social networks are likely to cope better with the challenges they face throughout their school years.
The transition from school into employment and adult roles is a challenging period. Many young people with intellectual disability struggle to find valued roles in their community after leaving school. The roles that people do find often have little more purpose than filling in time. Many employers struggle to understand how people with intellectual disability can be useful or effective in the workplace, or how to adapt their workplace processes to accommodate an employee with intellectual disability. As a result, many people with intellectual disability are at significant risk of unemployment or underemployment, social isolation, poverty and criminal justice system involvement (as victims or offenders or both).
I knew there was something wrong with me. There were certain things I couldn’t do in my head. Lots of students just thought I didn’t want to go to school. They said things about me behind my back, things that really hurt then. They said I had brain damage. Would have hated to be at Special School because people would tease you, treat you like a fool. Sometimes I would be chased and bullied by two guys, verbally abused. I used to hide.(O’Connor & Fowkes, 2000)