Mental Retardation

By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

Mental retardation is a developmental disability that can appear from birth through the age of 18. It is described as below-average general intellectual function with associated deficits in adaptive behavior. In order to be diagnosed as a person with mental retardation, the person has to have both significantly low IQ (below 70-75) and considerable problems in adapting to everyday life. Mental retardation is very common and is affecting about 3% of the total population.

Severity of mental retardation can range from mild to profound. Those children suffering from mild mental retardation (i.e. IQ of 55-69) may be able to learn to read and write at the 4th or 5th grade level, live relatively independently and work with special training. About 85% of the children suffering from this disability have mild retardation. Less than 1% of the children have profound retardation with IQ less than 24.

A specific reason for mental retardation is determined in only 25% of the cases. About 5% of all cases can be linked to heredity. In these instances, the cause is a genetic defect, such as an inherited abnormal gene, gene mutation, or chromosomal defect. Other causes are complications at the time of birth, problems during pregnancy, ailments such as meningitis or accidents affecting the neural functioning, etc.

Early comprehensive prenatal care and preventive measures prior to and during pregnancy increase a woman's chances of preventing mental retardation. Timely involvement programs with high-risk infants and children have shown outstanding results in dropping the expected occurrence of abnormally low intellectual performance.

If you fear your child might be suffering from mental retardation, look for the following symptoms: inability to meet intellectual development markers, persistent infantile behavior, lack of interest or curiosity, decline in learning ability, not being able to keep up with everyone else in school. Not all of these symptoms are because of mental retardation. Consult a professional or a doctor if you have any concerns about your child's development.

Treatment of mental retardation involves developing an individualized plan based upon the child's skills and needs. A child is taught a variety of skills to live his/her life independently.

Here are some suggestions that can help you help your child suffering from mental retardation:

  • Read about mental retardation and be an informed parent. That way you will be able to understand your child's behavior and help him improve it.
  • Raising a child suffering from this disability is a big challenge. It helps to ask for tips and suggestions from other parents.
  • Professionals such as psychiatrists, doctors, teachers, therapists, social workers, etc. are trained to deal with patients suffering from mental retardation. They may have ideas to share with you and they may recommend reading materials, videos and other sources for information and support.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,