Which border is Borderline Intellectual Functioning on?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Crossing the border.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

What is Borderline Intellectual Functioning?

Borderline Intellectual Functioning (BIF) is one of several totally unrelated conditions which are officially or unofficially called borderline only because they are on the edge or junction of some other condition. BIF is in no way related to Borderline Personality Disorder.

Borderline Intellectual Functioning is a designation for some individuals who find it hard to learn some information. It sometimes gets confused and mixed up with several types of ADHD or the older label ADD.

The definition of BIF is totally determined by the person’s IQ score. Stay with me here as I explain this. I will give you the exact numbers as we go.

There is also a lot of prejudice about anyone with a low I.Q. score even though some low I.Q. scoring people are extremely talented in areas that are not captured on an I.Q. test.

When discussing I.Q scores we need to be very careful. First, they do NOT mean what many people think they mean and since they are mathematical numbers being somehow attached to non-mathematical people we need to talk some statistic-number-stuff to explain this one. I will keep the number stuff extra simple.

The companies that make the tests try to improve the test over time but there is only so much you can do in trying to give a test that somehow is meant, to sum up, a person’s abilities. We believe that  I. Q. is made up, not of one single ability, but a whole host of talents. Verbal and mathematical talents are easy to capture with a written test, musical, artistic and athletic talents may not show up so much.

There is also evidence of something called E. Q. (Emotional intelligence.) We all know someone who is very bright in school but is no good with people and there are those individuals who are good with people or animals but can’t pass a written test.

Many, but not all I. Q. and related tests, are biased towards how many words you know. Want to score well on a lot of ability tests – learn all the words you can.

The scores are designed to measure how someone’s test score compares to other people. We still can’t find any “normal” people to compare others to so we create an imaginary “normal” person by averaging all the scores we get and saying that average (or mean or mode) is somehow the “normal” person.

I.Q. tests are set up so that the “average” score is 100. Theoretically, if you test enough people the most common score is 100. But scores vary an awful lot. So is someone with a 99 really less smart than someone who scores a 101? Not very much.

If you take this kind of test many times you will get many scores. So some days you, one single individual will be “smarter” than on others.

One day the average person scores a 95. We could call that below normal. The next day they get a 105 and are above average. So we learn to use ranges of scores, not just the number.

Turns out that the largest group of people will score between 85 and 115 on most tests. (For the math people the standard deviation here is 15.) This group will contain just under 70% of all humans.

We consider this whole range of people 85-115 more or less the same. Since scores of one person may move up or down 5 points from day-to-day we need to look at the people just outside that range.

So are people above 115 really smart, geniuses maybe? Not that often. It may be easier for someone with an I.Q of 125 to get A’s in school but we all have heard of very bright people who fail school and less smart people who study really hard and get good grades.

For most purposes, we don’t see a lot of differences in individuals till we get out to two standard deviations. People who score between 70 and 130 all fall within the “average” group. This group covers about 97.5 % of all people. Only those below 70 and above 130, start to get extra special labels.

Really high scores might get the label “genius.” But some of them still do some dumb things. It may be a lot easier for the person who has an I.Q. of 125 to do a book report and someone with a score of 90 may struggle on a math assignment or vice versa, but we think anyone in that range, with a good education, can do this stuff.

Now back to Borderline Intellectual Functioning. The definition of BIF is an I. Q. Score of 71-84. The person with this score is on the low end of what we would consider an “average” or “normal” person.

Telling someone they or their child has a low score on an I. Q. test is likely to upset them. They want us to do something.

Most of us understand when a kid is too small or skinny to be good at football. We accept that a really short kid will not do so well in basketball. Most of us get this. Except sometimes parents want their kid to be good at a sport so badly that they push this kid unmercifully to grow more and get taller. Don’t get me started on the long-term damage wanting your kid to be something they are not can do to that child.

Not very many parents want to accept that their kid has fewer math or spelling circuits in their brain. So when they get the results of the I.Q. test they want something to make their kid smarter. Lots of kids in the lower normal I.Q. score range get low grades, get discouraged and stop caring about school work. Then they get diagnosed with ADHD and given a stimulant medication. It may boost their test scores a little, for a while, but it does not make them develop a higher I.Q.

Many people with BIF do graduate from school, get jobs and have happy productive lives. The task for them is to find the other areas in life for which they have abilities and then accept that some school type things may be harder for them than for people with more skill in another area.

My belief is we need to stop telling our kids that they need to be on the football team and get straight A’s and begin to accept that everyone has different talents. What are your talents and what are you doing with them?

For more on the Mental Health treatment of Borderline intellectual functioning see the post on V codes.

There, I will climb down off my soapbox, — for now.

Did that help you understand Borderline Intellectual Functioning?

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