Mental Retardation Picture

Mental Retardation: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Mental Retardation refers to the lack of mental ability or the skills to perform the day-to-day living. It is known as intellectual disability. It makes a person have below-average intelligence. Therefore, it indicates the lack of mental ability to adapt quickly to a situation or circumstances. People having an intellectual disability can learn new things and skills. But, the speed of learning is more slowly compared to others. Intellectual disability can vary from mild to severe. If you suspect a child has reduced the intellectual ability, then you need to take them to the doctor. A medical professional can assess the issue and suggest methods to cope with it.

Mental retardation is a term that signifies the developmental disability. In some children, it becomes difficult to recognize the issue. Children appear normal but have developmental delays. Therefore, parents need to consult their doctor to overcome the concerns and detect the problem. The child may have trouble functioning in everyday life. They may learn skills at a slow pace. He/she may have trouble understanding how to talk, write, dress, or act around others. It is important to know the right information about the issue. So, read ahead!

What Is Mental Retardation?

It is the commonly used term to refer a person with intellectual disability. The term is not used now as it can hurt the feelings. The intellectual disability can limit a person in two specific areas:

Intellectual Functioning

Intellectual Functioning
IQ test

Familiar with the term IQ? Intelligence Quotient refers to your ability to learn, solve problems, make decisions, or reason. When you score 85 to 115, it means you have normal intellectual functioning. A normal person must have the average score of 100 in the IQ test. A mentally retarded person scores less in the test (less than 70 or 75).

Adaptive Behavior

Adaptive Behavior

Adaptive behavior as the name suggests refers to the skills you need to face the everyday activities in life. The skills like interacting with others, communication, and taking care of yourself comes under the category. In children or people with mental retardation, the skills lack. A specialist can observe a child closely to understand the skills they possess. It is assessed and compared with other kids of the same age. The difference can point towards the lack of adaptive behavior. So, the things the specialist observes include:

  • How well the child dresses
  • The capability to feed herself/himself
  • Interaction and understanding others
  • The communication with family or friends

Some kids affected by the problem have an only mild disability. In such cases, the right support can help them cope up with the everyday task. So, they can learn new skills and live independently.

Classification Of Mental Retardation

Mental retardation can affect 1% of the total population worldwide. Out of the affected population, the learning skills and intellectual ability varies. Some learn only a little slower than the average people. But, others may find it difficult to adapt to the surrounding environment. So, based on the capabilities, the problem gets classified into different types.

Moderate Mental Retardation

It is the most common type as 85% of the affected people come under the category. The moderately affected people have IQ scores better than the other two types (35 to 55). People or children coming under the classification can carry out everyday work. They can also perform self-care tasks with little supervision. Kids affected by the moderate problem can acquire communication skills. So, they can live successfully within supervised environments. Functioning is possible under little supervision. Therefore, you can see that moderately retarded people can perform well in group homes. But, with the right support, they can live independently as adults.

Severe Mental Retardation

About three to four percent of the mentally retarded population have severe mental retardation. They have an IQ score of around 20 to 40. With good guidance, individuals can master basic self-care skills. They also acquire the necessary communication skills to an extent. Though they are not capable of living independently, they can thrive in group homes.

Profound Mental Retardation

It is a rare occurrence. But, one to two percent of people suffering from an intellectual disability can suffer from a serious issue. Individuals suffering have a very low IQ (below 20 or 25). With strict supervision, they can develop self-care. Proper support and training can ensure the acquire communication skills. Unfortunately, the problem accompanies with some kind of neurological disorder, therefore, such individuals/kids require a high level of supervision. They need strict training to grasp the basic self-care regime. Treatments and support are necessary for basic functioning.

Signs Of Mental Retardation

With more information and knowledge, you can detect the problem in the early stages. So, intellectual disability becomes easy to identify in kids. You can look for the signs that appear during the infancy. But, in some cases, the signs become visible only as the child reaches school age. The visibility of the signs depends on the severity of the disability. The common red flags that point to the mental retardation are:

Developmental Delays

Developmental Chart
Developmental Chart

The child has problems reaching its milestones at the right time. So, the child finds it difficult to roll over, sit up, crawl, or walk. Reaching such important milestones indicates the child as no developmental problems. But, the failure to attain the milestone refers to some problem that needs addressing.

Communication Skills

The slower ability to develop communication skills indicates an intellectual disability. So, kids can have trouble talking or talk late.


Every normal child can master the self-care swiftly. But, children with intellectual disability master it at a slower pace. So, the basic self-care regime like potty training, dressing, and feeding themselves takes time. They can only learn it with strict supervision with some time delay.

Memory Skills

Children with intellectual disability have trouble remembering things. They have low memory skills that make it difficult to learn things quickly.

Connect Actions With Consequences

Children with mental retardation have impulse behavior. They have the inability to connect their action with the consequences. So, they exhibit rash behavior not acceptable to social norms.

Behavior Problems

Children with any form of retardation have behavior problems. So, they are prone to explosive tantrums.

Logical Thinking

Logical Thinking

Another sign is the difficulty with logical reasoning or the lack of problem-solving skills. The individuals affected by the problem have trouble coming to a conclusion depending on the problem.

Health Issues

Children with severe or profound mental retardation have health issues. So, you can observe problems like:

  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Seizures
  • Vision Problems
  • Motor Skills Impairment
  • Hearing Problems

Causes Of Mental Retardation

The mental retardation can affect infants due to certain problems interfering normal brain development. At times, the problem affects people when they suffer from brain injuries. The problems affecting the brain can occur during their development in the womb or after birth. But, doctors never know the specific problem associated with an intellectual disability most times. You can detect only one-third of the problem successfully. So, the common causes associated with the problem are:

Genetic Conditions

The genetic problem with the baby can result in intellectual disability. The genes in every cell of your body determine your development. So, the faulty gene inherited from one or both the parents can result in the condition. At times, the genes can change while the baby develops resulting in the problem. Genetic problems like fragile X syndrome and Down syndrome can affect brain functions.

Pregnancy Problems

The problems with the mother can affect a child’s brain development. The issues that can interfere with fetal brain development include:

Complications during the birth can also interfere with brain development. So, a baby deprived of oxygen during the birth can suffer from mental retardation. Extremely premature babies also have a high risk of getting affected by the complication.


Some infections can affect the brain and change its way of working. So, the mental retardation can occur due to the following illness:

  • Meningitis
  • Measles
  • Brain Infections
  • A Whooping Cough

Exposure to chemicals like lead for a long time can also lead to intellectual disability.

Injury Or Trauma

Your brain can get hurt due to the trauma or injuries at any point in your life. The disability caused to such instances can have short-term or long-term effects. So, the following problems can lead to intellectual disability:

  • A head injury during an accident or fall
  • Severe Neglect
  • Physical Abuse
  • Malnutrition

None Of The Above

Some of the children suffer from the issue, but doctors can never find the exact cause. In two-thirds of the total cases reported worldwide, the exact reason for the problem remains unknown.

Diagnosis Of Mental Retardation

Once you suspect some problems with your child, you need to seek assistance from a specialist. Only a certified psychologist capable of administering, scoring, and interpreting the intelligence can come to a proper conclusion. So, the specialist can assess the intelligence with screening tests. The tests can analyze a child’s intellectual as well as adaptive development. The tests are mostly performed on children or adolescents below the age of 18. It is due to the fact that the limitation becomes apparent by age. The important factors influence the detection of intellectual disability:

Testing Of Intelligence And Adaptive Behavior

The intelligence is assessed using the IQ test. The score obtained in the test determines the presence of intellectual disability. Therefore, the specialists observe the child and test for adaptive behavior. The deficits in both intelligence and adaptive behavior indicate an intellectual disability. If one is present and another is not present, then the child has no intellectual disability.

Observation Of Child

A child is checked for developmental delays. The failure to reach the milestone within the specified timeframe indicates some problem. So, the doctor can perform tests to rule out other issue and come to a conclusion. Neurological disorders can trigger a certain issue. So, tests are conducted to rule out the problem.

Interview With Parents

The specialists interview the parents to know the medical history of the child in detail. The family history, illness, or other issues that can contribute to the mental retardation gets detected during the process. So, the doctors can come to a precise conclusion.

Physical Abnormalities

Physical abnormalities can indicate mental retardation. So, various tests can confirm genetic or metabolic disorders. The various tests that can detect the issues include:

After the diagnosis, you need to consult a team of specialist doctors. The team can assess the child’s specific strengths and weaknesses. Based on the assessment, they develop the kind of support a child needs. The support can aid in succeeding in daily life at home, school or in the community. Therefore, the treatment plan may differ based on the child’s problem and its severity.

Mental Retardation Treatment

The earlier detection makes it possible to provide therapies that will assist in a better coping mechanism. Early intervention program can identify the child’s specific needs and provide services. It will help the child to thrive.

Speech Therapy

Mental retardation can result in a delayed speech in children. The rate and extent of the learning depend on the child’s degree of retardation. Therefore, extensive retardation makes it difficult for the child to learn a language and communicate. In general cases, a retarded child begins to speak two years later than a normal child. The limited vocabulary, shorter sentences, and less complex structure indicate speech problem. Therefore, speech therapy is essential to overcome the communication problem. The speech pathologist can work with the child for overcoming language difficulties.

Occupational Therapy

Based on the recommendations of the specialists, a child can undergo occupational therapy. The social program and extra-curricular activities aim to improve the self-esteem of the child. So, it aids in providing motivation to perform tasks independently. It also helps in developing a positive personality. The program can reduce the aggressive behavior of children with intellectual disabilities. From learning the basic skills like self-care to job training can boost confidence. Individuals with mild retardation can often acquire skills. Therefore, they become capable to live independently. Such people can hold a job well. While moderate to profoundly retarded people can gain the confidence to love in a supervised community. So, with the therapy, they can live in a residential setting or a group home.

Special Assistive Devices Training

Special Assistive Devices Training

Special assistive devices refer to the different equipment or products used directly, modified, or customized to provide training to children. The devices can enhance, maintain or improve functional capabilities. Therefore, children with mental retardation can train with devices like self-help aids to improve their capabilities.

Physical Therapy

Physical Therapy

In some cases, physical therapy can do wonders to individuals with intellectual disability. The exercises can promote motor skills required to perform everyday activities. The physical therapist can provide flexibility to the motion. It also stimulates learning abilities. So, the adaptation skills can improve through sensory integration actions. The doctor can determine if physical therapy can provide benefits to mental retardation.

Family Therapy

Children affected with mental retardation need support from family members. Therefore, relatives of the affected individuals need coping skills. The family therapy can help with the process. It can help the parents and close relatives deal with the varying emotions of guilt and anger. A good supportive and warm environment can help individuals reach their optimum potential.

Prevention Of Mental Retardation

You can prevent some types of mental retardation. You can take the following steps to ensure you avoid the problem affecting your child.

Avoid Alcohol

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can result in fetal alcohol syndrome. So, pregnant women must abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages.

Genetic Testing

If you have genetic disorders in your family, then you need to undergo genetic testing before conception. It will help you understand the chances of having a baby with an intellectual disability.

Prenatal Care

Pregnant women need to take care of themselves well. So, good prenatal care can prevent mental retardation to an extent. Pregnant women must refrain from subjecting themselves to risks. So, they need to avoid alcohol, prevent exposure to toxic chemicals, and maintain good nutrition.


Getting immunity against diseases like Hib and measles can avoid the illness. The diseases can trigger mental retardation. Women trying to get pregnant need to get a vaccination against infectious diseases. So, it reduces the risk of carrying a child with an intellectual disability.

Screening Tests

Pregnant women at greater risk of having a retarded child need to undergo screening tests. The amniocentesis and ultrasound scanning can look for such problems. When the doctor performs the tests, it can reveal the problem before birth. But, the tests cannot cure the problem. It only helps you make yourself ready to meet the challenges after the birth of the child.

Newborn Screening

Newborn screening can detect diseases like hyperthyroidism and PKU. The diseases can affect the brain development of the child resulting in intellectual disability. So, the screening can catch the problem at the start. The screening is important for children who suffer neglect or have malnutrition. The disease producing condition can trigger the problem. So, the screening identifies the problem easily. Apart from that, developmental screening is critical for pediatric care. The routine screening can track the intellectual disability.


Mental Retardation has no cure. You can only help the people affected by it to cope well with the condition. With good guidance and supervision, children with intellectual disability can perform all tasks. They can live independently and take care of themselves. So, family members need to provide love and guidance to make it possible.

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