What is Mental Retardation?

Mental Retardation (intellectual developmental disorder) is characterized by deficits in general mental abilities. The deficits result in impairments of adaptive functioning, such that the individual fails to meet standards of personal independence and social responsibility in one or more aspects of daily life. The prevalence figures ranges from 2.36 to 3.52 percent in the general population.

The general metal abilities that have deficits include: Attention, memory, reasoning, problem solving, decision making, planning, abstract thinking, judgment, academic learning, and learning from experience. Other features include slow reaction, absence of clarity, poor comprehension.

General deficiency in the above mentioned cognitive domain leads to impaired adaptive functioning during the developmental period. Adaptive functioning includes collection of conceptual skills, social skills and practical skills. Conceptual skills include language and literacy, money, time and number concepts. Social skills incorporate interpersonal skills, social responsibilities and social problem solving. Practical skills include activities of daily living, occupational skills, healthcare, travel/transportation skills, use of telephone etc.

Children with intellectual disability may also have delayed development, poor interpersonal relations, low self esteem, gullibility, decreased confidence, being victimized by bullies, emotional difficulties, anxious at novel situations, cognitive distortions. All these may or may not be accompanied by certain behavior issues such as inattentiveness and hyperactive temper tantrums, anger outburst, breaking things at home etc.

A number of environmental, genetic or multiple factors can cause Mental Retardation. Intellectual disability can be diagnosed with the detailed clinical interview with the parents and observing the child in the clinical setting along with the IQ assessment to be performed by a trained clinical psychologist. IQ scores of below 70 points implicate the presence of Mental Retardation.

The following can be the red signs to be looked for:

Child’s response to environment stimulation is very slow or minimal
Overall functioning is lower than usual
Acts too young for his/her age
Poor comprehension
Forgetting things that are learned
Difficulty in expressing thoughts, needs and feelings clearly
Inability to learn fast as compared to others
Problem in understanding easily what they hear, touch, smell or taste
Problem in taking simple decisions for themselves

Consultation with a mental health professional either a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist is essential for the diagnosis to be made.