Mary Harding School Logo


A Special Needs School in the Athlone District, Cape Town.

Headmaster : Mr A Gradwell
Lower Klipfontein Road, Athlone, 7764, Cape Town, South Africa
Mary Harding School - Image Line

Barriers to Learning
and Understanding Intellectual Impairment

Barriers to Learning

The word barrier is used in education to describe to the parent, teacher and other interested individuals of the presence of an obstacle in the child's way which is preventing that child from attaining the desired success in the mainstream curriculum.

These obstacles are seen as being either in the child, such as genetics, hyperactivity or outside the child, such as social problems. It can also be a combination of both factors.

Learners who attend Mary Harding School have a barrier within them. That barrier that prevents them from achieving in the mainstream school is called an intellectual barrier - our learners' main barrier is an intellectual barrier. That is why a psychologist has to assess your child to determine how he/she compares with their peers and the demands of the mainstream curriculum.

In addition to the intellectual barrier, several learners have additional barriers such as problems at home, involvement with gangs and other social problems that impact on their progress at school. Often these outside barriers impact on a child's emotional development negatively resulting in disruptive behaviour at school.

Some parents/guardians have a difficult time coming to terms with their child having to attend Mary Harding School. They look around at the other learners and think that their child cannot be like that.

Our school nurse is there to support all parents/guardians who require counselling for this difficult life adjustment. Please make an appointment with the school secretary to see the school nurse.

Understanding Intellectual Impairment

One of the barriers to learning is when a learner presents with intellectual impairment.

It is important that as a parent/guardian you have a basic knowledge of what intellectual impairment is.

Intellectual impairment is a condition in which there is a significantly sub-average mental development from birth or early childhood. Most people that have intellectual impairment have the condition from birth. In a small number, the condition may occur following damage to the brain in later childhood. This could, for example, follow an episode of brain fever or a motor vehicle accident.

Intellectual impairment is also termed as mental deficiency, mental sub-normality, mental retardation and intellectual deficiency. Terms that are also used include idiot, imbecile and moron. These insulting and demeaning terms should not be used.

Generally, intellectual impairment is a life-long condition. Those affected continue to have diminished intellectual capacity throughout their lives. However, in most individuals with intellectual impairment, those parts of the brain that are not damaged continue to develop. Therefore, they continue to acquire skills and abilities as they grow older, albeit slowly.

Intellectual impairment is not a mental illness. The major characteristic of intellectual impairment is delay in mental development, whereas the major characteristic of mental illness is disturbance in the mental functions of thinking, feeling, and behaviour. Mental illness can occur at any age, whereas intellectual impairment is present from childhood. However, some people with intellectual impairment may also develop mental illness.