Moderate Intellectual Disabilities and ICD Codes

Physicians learn ICD codes in medical school, which helps them note information in their client’s files. The code also appears in their file if the individual received a diagnosis from another doctor. It allows the physician to take special steps to work with that individual and also allows them to bill the insurer on file. An intellectual disability shows that the client has impaired functions when it comes to reading or other educational abilities. Before you focus on the ICD-10 code that corresponds with intellectual disabilities, you may want to see what the term means for you and your client.

What Are Moderate Intellectual Disabilities?

Intellectual disabilities often appear during childhood. They can be mild or moderate as well as severe or profound. An individual with a moderate disability has an IQ score of 35 to 49. An IQ of up to 70 shows the individual has a mild disability while a lower score indicates profound or severe disabilities. Those with severe disabilities require 24/7 care because they cannot handle most tasks.

A moderate intellectual disability affects people’s lives in multiple ways. They often have a hard time reading social cues, which prevents them from forming bonds with their peers. Not only do they take jokes and comments the wrong way, but they sometimes act in negative ways. There are still many things they can do on their own with minimal supervision, such as taking the bus and engaging in ADLs, or activities of daily living, like practicing hygiene and understanding what they should eat. People with a lower IQ may need to reside in a group home or with family members as they aren’t capable of living on their own.

Common Signs

Physicians begin looking for the signs of disabilities in children at a young age. They rely heavily on what parents tell them as they cannot observe the child in other settings. One of the main signs is that the child doesn’t meet specific milestones. This causes them to fall behind their peers and affects the way they act in school or preschool. The milestones that a child should reach by age five include:

  • Putting together sentences with a minimum of five words
  • Knowing and using 2,000 or more words
  • Understanding how to ask questions
  • Following simple tasks, such as completing a simple assignment or listening to a parent
  • Counting up to 10 things put in front of them

Parents of younger children may notice other signs of an intellectual disability. They often develop later than kids of the same age do, and noticing this is what causes a parent to ask for help from a physician. The symptoms of an intellectual disability a parent might notice include:

  • Not understanding that their actions can lead to consequences
  • Trouble speaking clearly in a way others can understand
  • Difficulty learning 
  • Issues remembering things
  • Acting younger than they are

Intellectual disabilities can also show up as behavioral problems that cause children to act in different ways. They may act aggressively, especially when someone tells them no. Younger kids may seem passive or stubborn. They can refuse to listen to commands or simply shut down when asked to do a task. An intellectual disability often makes it hard for children to pay attention, too. In older kids, an intellectual disability can lead to frustration and poor self-esteem while also causing them to self-harm. These kids may also struggle with depression and anxiety.

Causes of Intellectual Disabilities

The causes of intellectual disabilities include things that happen both before and after children’s birth. Genetics, certain substances, and infections can all affect the fetus. Genetic mutations happen when one or both parents pass certain genes down to their children, which leads to conditions like Down Syndrome. Mothers who abuse drugs or alcohol may have a child with a moderate intellectual disability. Exposure to radiation can also cause disabilities. 

Some children develop intellectual disabilities later in life because of things that happened during their early years. Some of the incidents that cause these disabilities include:

  • Exposure to heavy metals, such as lead
  • Measles and other infections
  • Brain trauma or injury
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Brain growths like tumors

Diagnosing Intellectual Disabilities

Whether you’re a primary care physician or you see clients for specific reasons, you may need to diagnose someone with a moderate intellectual disability. It’s possible that an older child and teen may show symptoms that their parents and previous doctors all missed. The main way to diagnose a client is with an intelligence quotient, or IQ, test. An IQ test tests an individual’s cognitive abilities

Though you’ll find many websites that claim they let you test your IQ for free, you cannot trust their scoring methods. A proper IQ test looks at how well individuals can identify the information they see. It also ensures they can follow instructions and pay attention to details. A person who scores 69 or lower has some type of intellectual disability. They need to score between 35 and 49 to have a moderate disability. Though more than 320,000 kids have intellectual disabilities, only 10% have moderate disabilities.

Doctors can run other tests to look for signs of intellectual disabilities, too. One option is medical imaging, which primarily focuses on the brain. These tests identify tumors or damage to the brain. Lab testing requires urine and blood samples to help doctors see any underlying causes. Parents can choose genetic testing or counseling as well. These tests allow them to see any abnormalities children have that indicate an intellectual disability.


There is no cure for an intellectual disability. The treatments used today simply help children with the disorder live long and happy lives. The person will learn how to handle simple tasks and keep their emotions under control. A moderate intellectual disability will not prevent children from attending school. They usually need an individualized education plan or IEP. An IEP helps their parents monitor their progress in school, outlines which services they receive, and keeps track of their goals.

There are a few other treatment options available as well, including:

  • Behavioral counseling to help clients learn how to control their behavior and change the way they act
  • Medications that treat some of the person’s symptoms
  • Vocational training to get the individual ready for a job
  • Community programs for parents and their children to get help
  • Family sessions that teach family members the skills they need to have to handle children with the disorder

Using ICD-10 Codes

Depending on how much experience you have in the medical field, you might be familiar with the older ICD codes. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) started in the early part of the 19th century before going through some changes. Every major update changes the name, which is why the ICD-9 codes that doctors used in the 1970s and later years became the ICD-10. The codes help doctors assess, diagnose, manage, and treat their clients. Using the right code for a moderate intellectual disability is important because it helps you see what a person can and cannot handle while under your care.

What Is the ICD-10 Code for Moderate Intellectual Disabilities??

The ICD-10 code for moderate intellectual disabilities is F71. You may see some other codes in a client’s file, especially if the original doctor or a previous physician later changed their diagnosis. F70 is the code for mild intellectual disabilities. It’s possible that a doctor diagnosed the person with a mild disability and that further testing revealed it to be more serious. 

The codes for severe and profound intellectual disabilities are F72 and F73. You may see one of these codes if the individual originally showed more severe symptoms that lessened with time or if a past doctor chose a higher diagnosis until the person took an accurate IQ test.

Reasons to Use the F71 Code

One of the main reasons to use the F71 code is that it clears up any confusion. People with intellectual disabilities have the same right to privacy and any other medical rights that other people have. You must ensure they have a safe space to talk about their symptoms and express any concerns they have. Those with intellectual disabilities may have a difficult time putting their feelings into words. They can’t always explain how or where they hurt, which is why primary care doctors usually run tests to look for conditions the individual may have.

Another reason to use the code is that it helps when you’re part of a collaborative team. Team members can include parents, teachers, caregivers, and other doctors. Bringing in the family ensures that the person’s loved ones know what they need at home. If you prescribe medication, their family members can make sure that the person takes it as directed. 

Adding the F71 code to a client’s file lets you confirm that other doctors know what the individual needs and how they might react. Someone with a moderate intellectual disability usually can’t learn skills beyond the eighth-grade level. They won’t be able to understand some of the bigger words you use. They may have a hard time following simple directions, such as standing on a scale or changing into a gown. Individuals can express concern when they need to have an MRI or get their blood drawn, too. 

As the main doctor, you’re their first line of defense. If you find an abnormality on a scan or believe your client would benefit from working with a specialist, you can refer them to another doctor and send over their file. That doctor can see the F71 code and know right away that the person has an intellectual disability. This helps them prepare for an appointment and take steps to ensure that the individual is comfortable.

How to Help Someone With an Intellectual Disability

You may not have a lot of experience working with people who have intellectual disabilities. This can cause frustration on both sides and lead to the individual no longer wanting to see you. It’s important to explore strategies for healthcare professionals to help individuals with intellectual disabilities:

  • Show respect for the person by using the right tone and looking them in the eye
  • Offer annual health assessments to look for any issues that they cannot describe
  • Clearly communicate with the individual about what you need or want from them
  • Use simple words and language they can understand
  • Bring any caregivers or family members into the conversation

If you’re a doctor and seeing a client who has the F71 code in their file for the first time, take steps to get ready for the appointment. Make sure the exam room has space for a caregiver or parent. You may want to go over what you’ll say to the person and adjust your language to ensure that they can understand you. It’s also helpful to add notes to the file after the appointment to prepare for the future and to remind yourself of what they need.

Manage ICD-10 Codes With AutoNotes

Even if you have handwriting that’s easy to read, you might grow tired of writing notes every day and trying to keep track of them. With AutoNotes, you get a new way to organize and manage your notes. Our app is easy to use and comes with a 24-hour free trial. Not only can you see how it works, but you don’t need to add a credit card to your account to try out the app. 

Designed and built for doctors, our app is updated as we get feedback from professionals like you. Give AutoNotes a try today to see how it helps you work with clients who have moderate intellectual disabilities and other conditions.