The term 'mental retardation' is used to refer to a person exhibiting limitations in mental, cognitive, and social functions. This means that children with this condition are unable to meet the daily demands of communication, self care, learning, etc., as quickly as other children without this condition do. They take longer to learn how to talk, walk, cater to their personal needs, and will also find school work very difficult.
The American Association on Mental Deficiency defines mental retardation as "Subaverage general intellectual functioning that originates during the developmental period (prenatal to 16 years) and is associated with impairment in adaptive behavior". Mental retardation can be caused by genetic factors such as abnormal genes. Problems arising during a pregnancy conducing to incomplete development of the baby in the womb can also cause mental retardation. Sometimes, during the birth of the baby, some complications may arise resulting in cutting of oxygen supply.
Characteristics of Mental Retardation
Mental retardation can be classified into three categories: physical, intellectual, and behavioral. Children with this condition have a slower rate of physical development, however, do not have any specific physical attributes that differentiate them from the rest of the population. They may exhibit conditions like hyponocity, abnormalities of the orofacial parts, and unsteady gait. In terms of behavioral characteristics, these children may exhibit characteristics such as limited self-control, aggressiveness, or self injury. In fact, some people with severe mental retardation characteristics are even found to exhibit obsessive compulsive disorder.
If we consider the intellectual characteristics, we will find quite a bit of difference between the cognitive and adaptive behavior of mentally retarded children and the rest of the population. To understand both cognitive and adaptive behavioral patterns properly, let's take a look at them individually.
One may not even detect that a child suffers from mental retardation until the child enters second or third grade, wherein school work demands greater cognitive functioning. These children will be slower when it comes to learning new things. What a typical child will take 5-10 days to learn, a mentally retarded child will take 50-100 days to learn. It's not that mentally retarded children cannot learn, it's just that they take longer to do so. So, competing at school or keeping up with classmates becomes arduous.
Moreover, these children are unable to retain the information absorbed. The extent of inability to remember things will depend on the severity of the condition. Since they have low short-term memory capacity, they find it difficult to take up jobs and work independently. However, people exhibiting characteristics of mild mental retardation can retain quite a bit of information, enough to handle a job. These children also feature low attention spans and find it difficult to concentrate on a particular task and complete it.
Adaptive functioning refers to the application of skills learned so as to live life independently. As an infant grows older he or she gradually shifts from complete dependency on parents and other people. The baby begins to walk, eat on his own, etc., and stops depending on the parents for locomotion, feeding, etc. The extent of dependence will again depend on the severity of the condition. People with profound characteristics may generally depend on others throughout their lives. However, children with mental retardation are unable to take care of themselves using daily living skills when other children do. They are not able to feed, bathe, or dress themselves.
Moreover, their communication skills are also very poor. They find it very difficult to listen, understand, and respond in conversations. Their social skills are also on the lower side. Although they are basically affectionate and endearing people, they find it difficult to make new friends and sustain friendships.
They lose focus during conversations, do not maintain eye contact, and interrupt frequently. So, building relationships is not easy for most of them. However, if they are surrounded by people willing to espouse their limitations, bonds stronger than those formed with people without this disability can be formed. Moreover, cognitive behavioral therapy is available for such children to help them cope up with life's demands and take care of themselves.
We need to understand that mental retardation is not some kind of disease that you can catch from somebody. It's not even a type of mental illness like depression or schizoaffective disorder. This condition has no cure and is a life long condition. However, children with this condition often learn to do several things and some even manage to take up simple jobs to sustain themselves.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.