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A Guide to Living with Borderline Intellectual Functioning

September 26, 2023

7 min read

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Author : United We Care
Clinically approved by : Dr.Vasudha
A Guide to Living with Borderline Intellectual Functioning

What is borderline intellectual functioning?

Learn about the symptoms and causes of this issue. Borderline intellectual functioning [1]  or borderline mental deficiency is a condition concerning an individual’s intellectual abilities. When individuals’ cognitive ability is below average, they are classified as borderline intellectuals. In this problem, a person’s IQ is 70-85. This is unlike in intellectual disability, where a person has an IQ below 70.

Borderline Intellectual Functioning and Learning Disabilities [2]

Most children with this issue find it difficult to cope with their studies at school. Most of them are “slow learners”. The majority of them even fail to pass out from high school. As a result, their social status remains low.

Borderline intellectual functioning children suffer from learning disabilities. These disabilities are, however, not limited to any specific domain, such as reading or writing. They also have a problem with attention and fine motor abilities.

It can affect a child’s learning capability. Therefore, those students must be given supplementary aids in the classroom.

BIF Definition: What is Borderline Intellectual Functioning? [3]

It refers to the level of intellectual cognition in people. It is unlike any psychiatric/psychological disorder. The problem with people having BIF is that their intellectual disability does not get diagnosed but their intelligence quotient or IQ is low.

BIF people experience a lot of physical and psychiatric problems. Having this issue after high school makes it difficult to achieve success in life, leading to potential poverty. They find it difficult to exercise independent judgment, and as a result, struggle in workplaces. They face many challenges and receive few job opportunities. Consequently, they suffer from anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. 

Recent studies have made changes to the definition of BIF. Borderline intellectual functioning DSM 5 code says that the IQ bracket of 70-85 has been removed as an intellect marker.

Causes of Borderline Intellectual Functioning [4]

If anything occurs that interrupts a person’s normal brain development it might lead to this problem. It can be caused at any time before you attain the age of eighteen because of injury, any disease, or abnormality of the brain. It may be caused by genetic liability, biological factors, socioeconomic status, and maternal stress.

  • Genetic: In many cases, borderline intellectual functioning might be caused by an abnormality in genes or from errors arising out of gene combination.
  • Physical: Certain diseases such as measles, meningitis, or whooping cough might lead to this problem. Malnutrition might also lead to this issue.
  • Environmental: Problems in the fetal brain during pregnancy might lead to this issue. Prematurity and oxygen deprivation during childhood and traumatic brain injury might cause BIF.

Symptoms of Borderline Intellectual Functioning [5]

The borderline intellectual functioning symptoms or signs are as follows:

  • Intellectual functioning related to abstract thinking, problem-solving, learning from experience, reasoning, planning, and curricular activities will be below average.
  • A child or adult with this problem will face difficulties in adjusting to new developments or coping with new skills.
  • They will also face difficulties in living an independent life. They will need help in carrying out daily activities and also in participating in social activities like interacting with others.
  • People with borderline intellectual functioning face difficulty in managing their feelings and anger. They suffer from mood swings and can get irritated easily.
  • Their ability to reason is very poor.
  • They are generally disorganized with poor concentration and response time.
  • Borderline intellectual functioning symptoms in adults are they cannot multitask and cannot follow complex instructions.

How to Diagnose and Test for borderline intellectual functioning

It is diagnosed through problems in the intellectual and adaptive functioning of people. It is assessed through an exam by a doctor and also through standardized testing. 

Full-scale IQ testing [6] is no longer required for diagnosing borderline intellectual functioning. An IQ score of 70-75 indicates borderline intellectual functioning but the score has to be interpreted in context with the person’s general mental abilities. In most cases, the scores differ. As a result, a full-scale IQ score may not give perfect results.

Adaptive functioning is tested through standardized measures with three areas under consideration:

  • Conceptual: Reading, writing, language, memory, reasoning, and math.
  • Social: Social judgment, communication skills, empathy, the capacity to follow rules, and the ability to keep friendships.
  • Practical: The ability to be independent, the capability to take on job responsibilities, manage money, and work tasks.

Strategies for Coping with BIF

Borderline intellectual functioning is a lifelong condition but timely intervention can improve functioning and help a person to thrive. Once you are diagnosed with this issue, the person’s strengths and weaknesses will be evaluated. With timely support, people with intellectual disabilities can be fully included in the community.

The strategies adopted to help people with borderline intellectual functioning are:

  • Early intervention in toddlers and infants.
  • Special education will help them cope in school and high school.
  • Family support is important for social acceptance [7]
  • Transition services
  • Day programs
  • Case management
  • Vocational programs
  • Housing options

Special education and related services should be free for every eligible child with this issue.  Moreover, people with this problem should get support from friends, family, community members, and co-workers. Employers can provide job coaching. With proper support and strategies, people with this problem can become successful with productive societal roles.

BIF Treatment: Therapy for Borderline Intellectual Functioning

Various therapies can improve this problem. Some of them have been discussed below:

  • Occupational therapy: Occupational therapy involves self-care, domestic activities, leisure activities, and employment skills.
  • Speech therapy: Speech therapy improves a person’s communication skills, speech articulation, vocabulary, and expression skills.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy improves mobility and quality of life. It also improves sensory integration.
  • Orthomolecular therapy: People with this problem might suffer from malnutrition. Orthomolecular therapy involves giving vitamins and mineral supplements to improve intellect.
  • Medication: The use of nootropic medicines (that enhance brain performance) is prescribed to develop a person’s learning activities.


In this issue, the cognitive abilities of individuals are affected. There is a need to create awareness of the condition. Such individuals can be integrated into society through the provision of proper medical attention and support strategies. If you seek help from professionals please contact us at United we care. Check out our areas of expertise.


  1. M. Peltopuro, T. Ahonen, J. Kaartinen, H. Seppälä, and V. Närhi, “Borderline Intellectual Functioning: A Systematic Literature Review,” Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, vol. 52, no. 6, pp. 419–443, Dec. 2014, doi: 10.1352/1934-9556-52.6.419. [Online]. Available: https://meridian.allenpress.com/idd/article-abstract/52/6/419/1920/Borderline-Intellectual-Functioning-A-Systematic. [Accessed: Aug. 01, 2022]
  2. S. Cataudella, S. Carta, M. L. Mascia, C. Masala, D. R. Petretto, and M. P. Penna, “Psychological Aspects of Students With Learning Disabilities in E-Environments: A Mini Review and Future Research Directions,” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 11, Jan. 2021, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.611818. [Online]. Available: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.611818/full. [Accessed: Aug. 01, 2022]
  3. E. Emerson, S. Einfeld, and R. J. Stancliffe, “The mental health of young children with intellectual disabilities or borderline intellectual functioning,” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, vol. 45, no. 5, pp. 579–587, Jul. 2009, doi: 10.1007/s00127-009-0100-y. [Online]. Available: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00127-009-0100-y. [Accessed: Aug. 01, 2022]
  4. J. Wieland and F. G. Zitman, “It is time to bring borderline intellectual functioning back into the main fold of classification systems,” BJPsych Bulletin, vol. 40, no. 4, pp. 204–206, Aug. 2016, doi: 10.1192/pb.bp.115.051490. [Online]. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4967780/ [Accessed: Aug. 01, 2022
  5. Wikipedia Contributors, “Borderline intellectual functioning,” Wikipedia, Jul. 13, 2022. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borderline_intellectual_functioning. [Accessed: Aug. 01, 2022
  6. “IQ Test,” Www.uv.es, 2022. [Online]. Available: https://www.uv.es/~buso/iq/index_en.html. [Accessed: Aug. 01, 2022
  7. J. Dworkin and J. Serido, “The Role of Families in Supporting Social and Emotional Learning,” 2017 [Online]. Available: https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/195183/issue-brief-role-of-families-in-supporting-sel.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

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Author : United We Care

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