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Published: November 13, 2019
Understanding Cognitive Disabilities

Man with a cognitive disability working in a store

Man with a cognitive disability working in a storeby Amber Carlton


“Cognitive disability” is a broad term that encompasses a variety of conditions and is not always well-defined. In general, however, it refers to individuals who have greater difficulty with one or more mental tasks than the average person. Cognitive disabilities can affect memory, the ability to problem-solve, the ability to focus, and visual, linguistic, reading, verbal, or math comprehension.

There are two main areas clinicians look at when diagnosing a cognitive disability:

Intellectual functioning: A person’s ability to plan, comprehend, and reason.

Adaptive functioning: How well a person can apply social and practical skills to everyday life.

Some cognitive disabilities are genetic, like Down’s Syndrome or Fragile X Syndrome. Some are the result of brain chemistry or structure. Others are acquired due to a physiological change such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or dementia.

According to the World Health Organization:

  • Approximately three percent of the world’s population has some sort of cognitive disability.
  • Of these, about 85 percent have a mild cognitive disability, such as a learning disability like dyslexia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Only about four percent of individuals are considered to have severe cognitive disabilities.

At The Independence Center, we offer a variety of resources – like skills classes, peer support groups, and assistance with disability benefits – to help people with cognitive disabilities live more independently.


To learn more about these and other resources, visit our Center for Independent Living page or give us a call at 719-471-8181.

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