A condition diagnosed before the age of 18, mental retardation is a generalized disorder that is characterized by impaired cognitive functioning and deficits in two or more standard adaptive behavioral areas. In the past, mental retardation has been classified as one who has an IQ score under 70. Now, mental retardation is much more in depth than that, with a focus on cognitive abilities and how the individual functions with day to day activities in their environment.
Generally, mental retardation in early onset, so the symptoms will be visible while the child is in the early stages of development. There may be a delayed start in basic functions such as crawling, walking and speaking. If there is a late onset of these skills, the parents need to pay close attention to the following characteristics:
- Deficits in memory skills
- Lack of curiosity
- Delays in oral language development
- Difficulty with problem solving
- Difficulty learning social rules
- Difficulty in learning adaptive behaviors such as self-care, hygiene, etc.
- Repetition required in learning basic skills such as reading, mathematics, writing, etc.
Early childhood mild mental retardation is classified as the child having an IQ of 50-69. Mild mental retardation may be almost undetectable until the start of school. It may be very difficult to distinguish between mild mental retardation and a learning disability. Moderate mental retardation is easier to detect, usually the symptoms start to become apparent in the early years of life. Classified by having an IQ score of 35-49, a child with moderate mental retardation will need constant care and assistance in school and their daily activities. As adults, they will need constant care as well, usually living with their parents. In a group home, these individuals get the care they need but are able to live semi-independently.
There are a number of factors than can lead to mental retardation. Genetic conditions can cause a number of disorders that are all classified as a form of mental retardation such as Down syndrome, William’s syndrome and Klinefelter’s syndrome. Issues can arise in pregnancy that causes the brain of the fetus to not develop properly. Issues can also arise at birth such as the baby not getting enough oxygen. Other possible causes include iodine deficiencies, exposure to certain toxins, exposure to certain diseases before vaccination and malnutrition.
The best way to determine if the child suffers from mental retardation is to administer a number of developmental screening tests including IQ testing. Anyone having an IQ of below 70 is considered mentally retarded. In addition, the individual must prove to have limitations in two or more areas of adaptive behavior such as communication, self-help skills and interpersonal skills.
Unfortunately, there are no cures for mental retardation. Treatment is available to manage the disorder, allowing them to learn how to perform a number of daily functions. For children suffering from mental retardation, there are special education classes to help them learn basic skills. As the child grows into adulthood, there are a variety of state-run, for-profit and non-profit organizations that offer fully staffed residential homes designed with aid available to cater to the unique needs of individuals suffering from mental retardation. These institutions offer activities, workshops and rehabilitation programs. There are also programs available that teach the individual (depending on the stage of their mental retardation) how to obtain a job, care for their children and function in day to day activities. In addition, medications can be used to help with some of the side effects or coexisting disorders that the individual may suffer from as well such as mood stabilizers, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications.