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Mental Retardation

Mental retardation generally appears before adulthood. At one time mental retardation was associated with an IQ level below 70 and cognitive dysfunction, but today it encompasses your physical and mental functioning. It is for this reason that the former description of the disorder is now obsolete and below average IQ is not a characteristic of mental retardation.

Possible Causes

The cause of mental retardation is mostly genetic. It can also be caused by other environmental factors such as: childhood head injuries, maternal diabetes, rubella, toxemia and/or substance abuse.

Warning Signs

Nearly all the signs associated with mental retardation are related to your behavior. Many mentally retarded children can learn to perform a number of daily functions such as: sitting up, crawling, walking and/or talking.

  • Delay or retardation in the development of oral language
  • Difficulty in retrieving memories or remembering events
  • Difficulty and at times in ability to learn according to social rules
  • Difficulty or inability to show significant skills in problem solving
  • Retardation in developing certain adaptive behaviors which include self care and self help
  • No  significant social inhibitors

Learning Disabilities

There is a significant degree of slowness and difficulty seen in the ability to learn, in children with mental retardation in contrast to a typical child. Children with mental retardation require a longer period of time to learn a language, develop social skills, and/or care for themselves in terms of dressing, personal needs and eating. It takes a longer time to learn, perform and replicate new skills then a child who develops normally. Every child has the ability to learn, develop skills and be a productive member of society.

Mild Mental Retardation

Mild stages of mental retardation are generally not obvious and cannot be identified or diagnosed until a child begins school. Even if the child is unable to perform well academically, an accurate diagnosis is often confused with a learning disability or a behavioral/emotional disorder. Children with mild mental retardation can read, learn practical skills and perform simple mathematical calculations at a 12 year-old age level.

Moderate Mental Retardation

Moderate levels of mental retardation are always evident in the initial years of life. An early warning sign is speech retardation. If you have moderate mental retardation, you require extra support at home, school and in the community. Your academic performance and abilities may be limited.

Severe Mental Retardation

If you suffer from severe mental retardation, you may require intensive care and support, as well as complete supervision for life. You may or may not be able to learn basic skills and will probably require 24/7 care.


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) recognizes mental retardation as a separate disorder with mild, moderate and severe subtypes. Mental retardation is a disability and not a disease and it needs to be distinguished from other types of mental illnesses. The condition has no cure and lasts throughout your lifetime.

Mental retardation is a recognized condition all over the world and there are many agencies throughout the world that can provide assistance if you suffer from this disability.

If you suffer from mild mental retardation, you can lead a close to normal life, with only minimal support. Moderate levels of mental retardation usually require specialized treatment. The treatment usually consists of strengthening your communication skills and providing vocational training. You may also require round the clock care. These services can range from fully-staffed residential homes to home health care services.

There are also many programs in the community that provide support to parents of children who are diagnosed with mental retardation. These support programs can also help you get a job and teach you the basic skills that you need to acquire or maintain some independence.


There are no medicines that can help the condition. Seizure medications may help reduce seizures. If you have mental retardation, you may also have other medical complications that require medication.


American Psychiatric Association. (2001). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, D.C.

Badano, J. L., Mitsuma, N., Beales, P. & Katsanis, N. (2006). The Ciliopathies: An emerging class of human genetic disorders. Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics. Retrieved from

Murphy, M. J., Cowan, R. &, Sederer, L. I. (2003). Blueprints Psychiatry. Retrieved from

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