(as defined by the American Academy of Pediatrics)
Most forms of mental retardation are recognized early in a child’s life, as children fail to achieve standard developmental milestones at appropriate ages or clearly display unusual behaviors. Mental retardation is diagnosed in the 2% to 3% of children who score the lowest on a standard IQ test and are delayed to the same extent in such life skills as self-care, selfdirection, and the use of academic skills. Eighty-five percent of children with mental retardation fall into the mild range, with IQ scores from 50 to 70. Experts use these lower IQ scores to label a child as mildly, moderately, severely, or profoundly retarded. The majority of children with below-average IQ scores are not considered to be mentally retarded, but below average, with test scores between 70 and 89.
The diagnosis of mental retardation can be made only by a certified psychologist capable of administering, scoring, and interpreting a standardized intelligence or cognitive test. The psychologist must also be able to observe and assess adaptive behavior.
Adaptive behavior enables children to interact with, adjust to, and meet the demands of other people and day-to-day living. Specific adaptive behavior includes a child’s
- motor skills
- communication abilities
- self-help and independent living skills (eating, dressing, toileting)
- other everyday skills (using public transportation, maintaining an appropriate job, taking care of a house).
Mental retardation can have a variety of causes, including
- hereditary disorders such as phenylketonuria (PKU)
- early alterations in the embryo’s development (Down’s syndrome)
- exposure to toxic substances (alcohol) or infections while the child is in the mother’s uterus
- problems in labor and birth that put stress on the baby
- problems after birth like injuries to the brain
In most cases the cause of retardation is not known, having no specific identifiable source.
Parents can obtain information, support, and services through medical centers, community schools, respite care programs, family support networks, and their pediatricians.
For more on this topic, please visit: Mental Retardation