Should Individuals With Intellectual Disabilities Bear Children?

Written by Amaranila Nariswari, Content Writer Intern at Project Child Indonesia

If you’re into controversial ideas, maybe you’ve heard people talking about how individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) should not be allowed to bear children. Some say they tend to have a lower ability to develop skills needed for day-to-day survival like communication and interpersonal skills, including self-awareness and empathy. Is it true, though, that ID people should not bear children? Personally, I am against this idea. For me, it is selfish, and I could not see any logical reasons behind it (I had to create a debate simulation with my friend to check both the pro and cons arguments, still, I could not find it acceptable to deny every human’s right to bear children!). I must admit, though, this controversial subject is interesting to discuss!

Before we proceed, it is important to know different types of ID. According to Byrd (2020), there are two dimensions of people with ID: one concerning their intellectual functioning and the other is related to their adaptive behaviors. Intellectual functioning is highly related to what we know as the intelligence quotient or the IQ, in which a test can measure. It is related to one’s learning ability, decision-making, reasoning, and problem-solving. On average, people score between 85 to 115, while those scoring under 75 or 70 are considered low intelligence. On the other hand, adaptive behaviors are related to how people communicate, understand others, and take care of themselves. A concrete test like the IQ doesn’t usually measure adaptive behaviors. Instead, it needs to be observed and measured by a specialist by comparing one’s behavior with others of the same age. 

Is ID genetically inherited? Well, yes, and no. Conditions like Down Syndrome and Fragile X Syndrome are usually inherited. However, ID cases are not as common as we thought they were. According to the American Psychiatric Association, ID affects 1% of the population, while 85% out of it have mild ID (APA, 2021). Some other IDs in children can be caused by the condition of the mother’s pregnancy or situations during childbirth, like consuming alcohol during pregnancy, lack of nutrition needed, or the babies being born way too early (Byrd, 2020). This is why expecting women should really pay attention to themselves and the baby and get their pregnancy routinely checked. 

Aside from being genetically inherited or situations during pregnancy and childbirth, more common causes of ID children are caused by how they are nurtured. Like whether ID people should not be allowed to bear children, the psychological debate over nature versus nurture has also been around for some time now. Psychologists have discussed which one affects more significant human development (Cherry, 2020). Nativists believe that one’s behavior is ‘wired’ from the very beginning, under the influence of the genetic code the parents have. In contrast, Empiricists believe that babies are born like a blank canvas, which will gradually be filled with what they learn along the way they grow. I can’t say which one is correct and which one is not, for I believe that both have their right-and-can-be-proven points. If you’re interested in this topic, I suggest you look more into it by reading psychological journals and readings. Even though both are correct, if we look into our environment, we can see that nurture plays a very important role in child development. When children are badly nurtured, they tend to fail developing skills children need, like understanding their environment and differentiating which behavior is suitable for children their age. 

These days I’ve been watching a kid in my neighborhood selling rice boxes every day. I don’t know where he came from, but I see him in his usual spot everyday, sleeping on hard concrete beside his old bicycle and looking tired. I feel sad as I believe children his age should not spend their time collecting money, but instead study and play with their friends. Learning and playing with friends is a privilege this kid doesn’t have. He might not be identified as an ID person. However, the environment he lives in does not rule out the possibility of this kid failing to develop the skills needed to survive. Instead of prohibiting ID people from bearing children, negligent parents shouldn’t have children. No parents are perfect. However, before having children, it is important to understand that parental roles include ensuring that your children’s basic needs are met, especially in terms of education and safety, including love and care for them. 

Children raised by negligent parents tend to perform lower in almost every aspect of their lives, especially academically and in skills revolving around social and emotional (Zahedani et al., 2016). This is harmful to the children, as they will be late to understand how things should be done in real life. What can we do, though, if we see cases of negligent parents? You can help the children by giving them company, talking to their parents, and if the issue is bad, please, report it to the Child Protection Commission. However, before we see the act of negligence, we have to try to prevent it by introducing a child-friendly environment and socialization regarding taking good care of children. Remember, children cannot choose who their parents are, but they sometimes have to bear their parents’ mistakes (in which they should NOT). As privileged people who understand the importance of children’s development, it would be good if we could bat an eye at our environment, ensuring no more harm is done to children.


APA. 2021. What Is Intellectual Disability? American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved from,be%20diagnosed%20with%20intellectual%20disability

Byrd, Florence. 2020. Intellectual Disability. WebMD. Retrieved from 

Cherry, Kendra. 2020. The Age Old Debate of Nature vs. Nurture. Very Well Mind. Retrieved from

Zahedani, Zahed et al. (2016). The influence of parenting style on academic achievement and career path. J Adv Med Educ Prof. 2016;4(3):130-134.