What Is Mental Retardation

According to American Association on Mental Retardation [2002] it is a disability characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social and practical adaptive skills. In other words it is a disorder manifesting before the onset of adulthood and is distinguished by the absence of two or more adaptive behaviors vital for normal daily functioning.  A person bearing the disorder would display impaired cognitive and social patterns, would lack proper communication skills and would not be able to take complete care of his routine tasks like bathing, dressing etc.

Mental retardation falls under one of the thirteen categories of disabilities classified by IDEA (individuals with disabilities education act) and was previously considered as a condition with IQ below 70. Recently individual functioning skills in the environment are also taken in consideration besides the cognitive functioning. Thus now a person below average IQ could not be termed mentally retarded. Here the broad categorization lies as Non syndromic mental retardation (with intellectual deficit without any other abnormality) and Syndromic mental retardation (intellectual malfunctioning coupled with other symptoms). 

Mental retardation as a disorder is merely evident in the behavioral pattern and only the people suffering from the Syndromic mental retardation display the archetypal appearance of mentally retarded. The behavioral signs of mental retardation are evident from the developmental years only as the children suffering from the disorder would

  • Delay in development of oral communicative skills.
  • Have difficulty in understanding and following social rules.
  • Self care skills like eating, bathing and cleaning are not proper.
  • Memory is impaired.
  • Unable to understand the action and outcome sequence.
  • Sit up, crawl or learn to walk late.

Most of their milestones of development are delayed and in extreme cases never reached. Mild retardation (IQ 50-69) is not usually diagnosed in the school years and the person can usually reach the IQ standard of 9-12 years old child.  Only about 13% of the individuals suffering from the disorder are found to possess IQ score under 50. These are the people who might require assistance and support throughout their lives. The rest of the 87% though show delay in reaching developmental milestones, but gradually become capable of taking care of them salves. Provided proper training and support they may also learn manual jobs with less intellectual involvement for their economic independence.

Mental retardation owes its roots to many causes amongst which the better known are genetic abnormalities like abnormalities in chromosomes g. Down syndrome (trisomy 21), Phenyl ketonuria and Fragile X syndrome. 

If a baby has troubles during the process of birth, like not getting sufficient oxygen, could also lead to cognitive impairment.  During pregnancy if the mother consumes excessive alcohol or catches rubella, the fetus fails to develop properly leading to mental retardation of the baby.

Even after proper birth mental retardation could effect in the cases of extreme malnutrition or exposure to poisons like mercury or lead. Few diseases like whooping cough, meningitis or measles could also lead to mental retardation.

Mental retardation is considered more of a disability than a disorder with no specific cure discovered yet. But with proper assistance and understanding a significant number of people suffering from it can be restored to nearly normal functioning of life.