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Intellectual Disabilities Resources

This unit helps students understand that Intellectual Disabilities affect the brain and that each individual with an Intellectual Disability is unique.  Students learn that people with intellectual disabilities can have multiple challenges, including language, academic, social and motor skills, and activities of daily living, but also have a variety of interests and strengths.

Key themes:

  • People with intellectual disabilities can do many things, but it sometimes may take longer to learn how or require more assistance.
  • People with intellectual disabilities have hopes, dreams and goals like everyone else and are able to live very productive lives.
  • Students are encouraged to use modern language and be a friend and an ally.
  • Technology is playing an increasingly important role in enabling people with intellectual disabilities to do everyday tasks and to function more independently.
  • People with intellectual disabilities can take part in lots of activities, sometimes with accommodations.
2 girls in science class

Suggested reading

We suggest reviewing our extensive guide to finding suggested reading titles online, for free or at very low cost. You can find our guide here. 

Sam's Top Secret Journal book cover

Sam’s Top Secret Journal: We Spy (Book 1, Middle Grade Mystery) by Sean Adelman

For grades 3-6


Join Sam as she embarks on her first big adventure in this middle-grade mystery. Sam is a middle school girl living a typical life except when she is sometimes bullied for the differences kids perceive in her. Sam has Down syndrome. See how she and her brother John work together to find some stolen money, help a new friend and escape real danger in this exciting adventure.

The author of this book wanted to write a story with a main character with Down syndrome.  All of the things Sam does in the book are based on his own daughter’s abilities. 

Questions to consider:

  • How does Sam first help and connect with her new friend Michael at the rehab center?
  • What was Sam’s mother’s advice about how to make new friends? Has this ever worked for you?
  • What did Sam learn about herself at the rock climbing gym?
  • Why does Sam compare Clive to the bullies? What does she hope is true?
  • Why does Sam get worried about Michael? How does talking about Michael with her dad, and then talking to her friends, help?
  • How did confronting the bully make Sam feel? Do you think she did the right thing? Why?
  • How does Sam feel about her role in capturing Clive and rescuing Michael?
  • Does it help Sam to learn who Megan is? How?
  • How has Sam has grown and changed by the end of the book? How does she feel about herself? How do other people see her?
  • Why does Sam write in her journal? Do you enjoy reading Sam’s journal?  Why?

Offline Activity:

Friendship activity: It’s important to remember that everyone wants friends. In the book Sam’s Top Secret Journal, Sam has a lot of good friendships, with girls and with boys. On this Friendship page, here are suggestions for friendships in the book to write about:

  • Sam’s friendship with her best friend Abby
  • Sam’s friendship with Andrew, and some challenges they faced
  • Sam’s new friendship with Michael, even though they are very different in many ways
  • Or a friend who is important to you

Want more Sam’s Top Secret Journal books?  There are two more!

Web-based resource:

Learn about Collette Divitto and her business, Collettey’s Cookies 

photo of Colette Divitto

Learn more about what people with Down syndrome can accomplish.  Collettey’s Cookies is a business is owned by Collette Divitto who has Down syndrome (like the hero of Sam’s Secret Journal).  Do you think Sam could become a business owner like Collette when she gets older?

Learn about Collette, how she started her very successful business, and her goals here:

Watch this news clip from WCVB Channel 5 Boston about Collette and her business:

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