Help for intellectually diabled

By Jasminee Sahoye


It could be a challenge for someone or a family with a member who has been diagnosed with an intellectual/developmental disability and even more challenging for ethnic communities where stereotypes and stigma are common.

However, there are support services that are available but often times not known.  Community Living Toronto, a non-profit organization is reaching out to those who need assistance. It provides a full range of personalized supports and services to over 6,000 people with an intellectual disability and their families.

CL Toronto describes people with intellectual/developmental disabilities as having the ability to learn, understand or remember things at a slower pace than others. This can affect their language and social skills. It may also mean that they need help with daily life as well as other assistance to be as independent and successful as possible.   They can still participate fully in their communities and can be great athletes, artists, workers, advocates, neighbours and friends.

According to Nooreen Pirbhai, CL Toronto’s Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator, “for over 60 years we have worked closely with families, their children and community partners to ensure that every person with an intellectual disability has the opportunity to live as independently as possible and achieve their goals and dreams.”

She told The Camera that they have always been committed to meeting the needs of families and given the increase of diversity within Toronto, “we wanted to understand  the specific need of ethno-cultural communities at the time of accessing services and supports and when they are also in services to make sure that agencies such as ours are meeting their unique needs as well.”

Pirbhai said they have found that newcomer communities face several challenges in accessing supports for persons with an intellectual disability.   “First and foremost it’s just the lack of knowledge about the services and support that are available to them in the province, secondly, it’s usually around language barriers… and another challenge is overcoming some of the stigma and taboos within their own communities.  That first step of reaching out for support is often hardest for some families.”


CL Toronto services are provided in the four regions of Toronto: Scarborough, North York, Etobicoke and Toronto Central with over 80 locations such as group homes, supported independent living programs, adult day programs, respite care and employment training centres, Pirbhai said. There are also over 30 agencies across the city that provide support for people with developmental disabilities.

Whether a child is entering daycare, starting elementary school or making the transition to high school, the staff at CL Toronto work closely with each person and their family to help ensure that the person is fully supported.

It also provides support to youth between the ages of 12 and 21 in education, proactive career and life planning, participation in recreation and leisure activities.


According to CL Toronto, regardless of an adult’s level of independence, each living option is designed to encourage growth, independence and participation within the community as well as to provide a secure and supportive home environment.  They offer neighbourhood homes – some with 24-hour support from trained staff, while others may have staff support during the morning and evening to provide guidance with household routines.

James Holzbauer works with Adult Protective Services Toronto and has been assessing and referring female applicants with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities to case workers, who provide one-and-one guidance.

He said their focus is to work with people who live independently in the community and do not receive any in-home support.


Holzbauer, who has been working in the disability rights field for over 25 years and 10 years with adult protective services, said very often people with an intellectual disability or developmental disability from the ethnic communities may not have been diagnosed earlier because they had not had family support.  He also said there are those who try to hide their intellectual disability by finding excuses. This type of behaviour is called the cloak of competence.

“What we see often with newcomer communities is the lack of diagnosis, the cloak of competence, the raised bar of expectation in a highly technical urban society and then this sort of youth culture that says it’s better to be tough and rough and maybe gang involved or something like that than to be vulnerable and considered; we don’t use the ‘r’ word but in the popular vernacular of kids ‘retarded’, so that’s the challenge.

He has observed that many of the young women from the Caribbean have what is called ‘splinter skills’ – they have low scores in skills such as writing, verbal and comprehension but possess high scores in other non-intellectual areas.  He added that even though they could be assessed as having a form of intellectual disability, the ‘splinter skills’ make it difficult to be fully diagnosed with intellectual disability as they fall in the border line range.

“What we see often especially from the Caribbean community, are young women who have off the chart splinter skills in some areas of cooking, cleaning, personal care, child rearing, skilled that are highly valued for young women in developing communities that aren’t so highly developed and viewed here like, academic skills. So the emphasis there is maybe you’re not a wealthy person, but the pride in how you keep your home, your ability to prepare good nutritious local cultural foods, your ability to look good. So we have these young women who have the cloak of confidence, they are the tough girls, they look good, we make sure they’re not taken advantage of…

“The prejudice and stereotype that we have in this country about people with intellectual disability is they need help with personal hygiene, they are not clean, they do not take care of themselves, so these young women don’t fit the stereotype because of the splinter skills and then they fly under the radar. Nobody thinks there is a competence issue.”

He also feels that racism is a barrier to women from the Caribbean and other newcomer communities getting the support they need to live normal lives.

Holzbauer has observed that the rate of abuse among women with intellectual disabilities are over the top. “The most recent statistics shows that between 83-87 per cent of all women with an intellectual disability have been sexually exploited or abused at some point of their lives.”  He added that men also face abuse.

For more information about Community Living Toronto, go to