Mental retardation is a developmental disorder where a person’s mental abilities do not fully develop in line with people of an equivalent age. It is quite common, with the condition affecting around 1 to 3 percent of the population, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. In many cases—between 75 and 90 percent of cases—it is mild and doesn’t severely affect people’s day-to-day activities. It is usually diagnosed before the person reaches 18.
What to Look For
Because it affects mental abilities, families should keep an eye on how their children develop. Is your child meeting standard targets? Can your child walk, talk, and hold items at the expected ages? In mild cases, you may observe difficulties during the school years, with your child falling behind in class.
That’s not to say that these symptoms are solely indicative of retardation; there could be several causes for a child not doing well at school or failing to develop as expected. A checkup at the doctor should always rule out hearing difficulties, epilepsy, and other conditions that may affect a child’s ability to learn or coordinate movement.
In a clinical setting, the presence of mental retardation is dependent on three criteria:
- The person must be under the age of 18
- IQ is below 70
- Two or more adaptive behaviors are limited
While the first two conditions are fairly clear, let’s look at adaptive behavior. This means the appropriate behaviors required to live and function in society. These might include:
- Grooming and dress
- Learning and abiding by rules, including social, legal, and societal
- Managing elements of life such as money, work, and friendships
- Communicating and understanding ideas and thoughts
Those with moderate or severe mental retardation will always show symptoms within the first few years—often showing speech and coordination issues early on. Less severe retardation may not be detected until the later years of development.
There is no cure for mental retardation, but assistance can be given so that it doesn’t affect the sufferer’s life too badly, depending on the extent of the disability. Those with IQs below 20, for example, often require specialized treatment, which can require a specialized environment. Those with IQs over 50, often described as mild mental retardation, can live independently and hold down a job. It all depends on the combination of issues that person has.
What Are the Causes of Mental Retardation?
Causes vary, and in most cases, no one cause is responsible. Down syndrome is perhaps one of the most well-known causes—along with all the other chromosomal abnormalities—but other issues can result in mental retardation, including fetal alcohol syndrome, iodine deficiency, and certain diseases and heavy metals.
Around 75 percent of cases have no known cause, so it’s hard to see how parents can prevent having a child with mental retardation. It’s important to remember that being a parent to a child with an intellectual disability is hard enough without blaming yourself.
Family Support: Mild Retardation
Those suffering from mild retardation often are slower than their peers at absorbing information. They may function at a high enough level to live independently, however, and this should be the family’s aim: to get that person into work and living a normal life.
Encouragement from an early age is vital. Your child will need to learn slowly and have lots of reinforcement. Make sure that you ask you child plenty of questions about simple things that your child sees. Your child will likely be stressed at school, so consider homeschooling as an option. Alternatively, there are specialized schools that can help child develop at their own rates.
In general, those suffering from mental retardation work best with short instruction periods and in small groups. You also need to remember that they won’t understand complex words or instructions. They also work best with a partner with similar development issues who can reinforce ideas.
Exercises work best when they are simple. Games are best when they have few rules, although no-rules soccer is never a good idea. Spud, tag, or simple hand clap games are ideal.
Equally, ensure your child mixes with children of their own ability, not necessarily age, on a regular basis. This will help your child to develop social skills. Again, make sure you encourage your child to respond to and answer questions, as this is a vital part of learning.
As your child ages, be prepared to answer some difficult “why am I this way” questions. Focus on the positives, and that will help you, as well as your child. In addition, your child will eventually need to get a job. There is a wide variety of schemes to help your child find employment. These tend to offer below-average wages but offer a sympathetic environment to those with mental retardation. Often they encourage socialization and offer social activities.
Family Support: Moderate to Severe Retardation
Those with severe or moderate retardation may not be able to function well in society without significant support. A child with an IQ of below 20 will likely need care throughout life. Fortunately there are homes that will do this if necessary—these are vital if the child becomes an orphan or if parents are otherwise unable to take on care.
Like those with mild retardation, however, the child should be exposed to schooling wherever possible. A specialized school is normally necessary here, as these will be familiar with dealing with common issues. Always make sure you have arrangements in place to ensure your child’s wellbeing in the event you are unable to look after him or her. The challenges associated with severe or moderate retardation are similar to those for children with mild retardation—they’re just more severe.
A child with mental retardation should always remain part of the community, and that’s the aim of modern social, schooling, and work programs. Whether your child has severe or mild retardation, there will be challenges throughout, but the reward will be seeing your child integrate into society.
Set realistic goals for you and your child, and make sure you seek out support groups for yourself as well. After all, if you’re stressing or upset about anything, it helps to know and talk to those who are going through the same thing. It’s good to talk, so make sure your child knows that too.