WH-questions and intellectual disabilities: What? Why?!

Who has students working on WH-question goals? How many of them have intellectual disabilities? Why isn’t there any research on teaching that skill with that population? When should I stop with the WH-questions? Oh—right now? Gotcha.

You’ll all agree, answering questions is fundamental. And while we know a lot about how this skill develops in typical children and those with language impairments, kids with intellectual disabilities have been left out of the research fun (a common theme this month). In this study, Sanders & Erickson found that school-age (3rd–12th grade) children with intellectual impairments were better with concrete questions vs. abstract ones (probably no surprise there). Specific questions words could be ranked in difficulty, as shown:

Copy of Structure_ SD (simple description) Topic_ Baseball Characteristics%2FFacts_ Sport played outside on a field Nicknamed “America’s Pasttime” Nine players play defense at a time One player bats at a time Players u.png

This is where a badly written goal could trip you up. If you’re just looking at “ability to answer WH questions” in general, your data could vary wildly depending on what specific question words were targeted on any given day.

Now this part might surprise you: overall, picture supports did NOT significantly improve the students’ ability to answer correctly. Visuals tend to be one of our go-to scaffolding techniques, especially for this population, but they may need explicit instruction in how to use the visuals to form a response. Meanwhile, other factors, like the complexity of the question and prior knowledge of the topic should be considered to increase the chances of success.


Sanders, E. J., & Erickson, K. A. (2018). Wh - Question answering in children with intellectual disability. Journal of Communication Disorders, 76, 79–90. doi: 10.1016/j.jcomdis.2018.09.003.