Mental Retardation Characteristics and Causes

Mental Retardation Characteristics and Causes: Mental retardation, also known as intellectual disability, is a condition that affects a person’s cognitive abilities and adaptive skills. It is characterized by significant limitations in intellectual functioning, such as problem-solving, reasoning, and learning, as well as limitations in everyday activities, such as communication, self-care, and social interaction.

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Concept Of Mental Retardation

Mental retardation is also called “intellectual disability” or cognitive disability. It is defined as “a disability with significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior in everyday social and practical skills.

It is also defined as a below-average intelligence (IQ) or mental ability along with a lack of basic skills essential for daily living, daily interaction (communication & social skills), and activities that are diagnosed before the age of 18.

These limitations cause a child to learn and develop more slowly than a normal child. Children who have a condition of incomplete or less than-normal mental development so that they are unable to adjust to day-to-day living in a normally efficient, usefully productive, and harmonious manner are called mentally retarded children.

They are hence in constant need of care, protection, supervision, and help.

Mental retardation starts in childhood or adolescence before the age of 18. In most cases, it stays throughout adult life. Mental retardation is chronic and incurable. With regular and organized support, people with mental retardation can be trained to become independent. Mental diseases are different from mental retardation.

Mental illness is treatable. Whereas Mental Retardation is a condition where a child’s mental development does not keep pace with his physical development.

Other Meaning of Mental Retardation

Mental retardation, also known as intellectual disability, is a condition that affects a person’s cognitive abilities and adaptive skills. It is characterized by significant limitations in intellectual functioning, such as problem-solving, reasoning, and learning, as well as limitations in everyday activities, such as communication, self-care, and social interaction.

People with mental retardation may have difficulty understanding and processing information, which can make it challenging for them to learn new skills and concepts. They may also have difficulty communicating their needs and emotions, making it harder for them to form relationships with others.

Definitions of Mental Retaration

The terminology for mental retardation has evolved over time, and different organizations and professionals may use different definitions. Here are a few examples of definitions for mental retardation:

American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD): “Intellectual disability is a disability characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills. This disability originates before the age of 18.”

According to Tredgold: It is a state of arrested or incomplete development of the mind so severe that the patient is incapable of leading an independent life.

According to Kidd (1991): It refers to significantly subaverage intellectual functioning which manifests itself during the development period and is characterized by inadequacy in adaptive behavior.

World Health Organization (WHO): “Intellectual disability is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of the mind, which is characterized by impairment of skills manifested during the developmental period, which contribute to the overall level of intelligence, i.e., cognitive, language, motor, and social abilities. This condition is permanent, but with appropriate support and intervention, people with intellectual disability can live a satisfying and fulfilling life.”

Characteristics of mentally retarded children (Mental Retardation Characteristics)

Mentally retarded children may have difficulty learning and understanding things that other children of their age can easily comprehend. They may have trouble with language skills, such as speaking, reading, and writing, and may struggle with social skills, making friends, and playing with others.

Some other characteristics of mentally retarded children may include:

1. Delayed development: They may take longer to reach developmental milestones, such as crawling, walking, and talking.

2. Low IQ: They may have a lower intelligence quotient (IQ) than other children their age.

3. Memory problems: They may have difficulty remembering things they have learned.

4. Attention problems: They may have trouble paying attention and staying focused on tasks.

5. Behavioral issues: They may exhibit challenging behaviors, such as aggression, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

6. Sub-average intellectual functioning: Their intellectual functioning is less than average which is, below 80 IQ on an intelligence test. This is the fundamental criterion for diagnosing a mentally retarded child.

7. Limited Functioning: Their level of functioning is very limited. They have difficulty not only in learning but also doing routine life jobs.  Due to a significant loss of conceptual, practical, and social intelligence.

8. Low level of adaptive skills: They are not only slow in acquiring skills but they are also poor in adaptive skills.

9. Early manifestation: Mental retardation manifests itself before the age of 18. So, it is viewed as a disorder of life period, characterized by a slow rate of development.

10. Poor performance level: If a child falls short in the performance of tasks, out of the performances of the majority of children of his or her own age, he is said to have low mental age or subnormal intellectual functioning. If an 8-year-old child’s performance equals that of a 6-year-old, his IQ will be = mental age /chronological X 100 = 6 / 8 X 100 = 75

11. Slow acquisition of skills: Academic and non-academic both types of skills are acquired by them at a very slow rate.

Causes of mental retardation

There are a variety of factors which cause Mental retardation or intellectual disability. Here are some possible causes in easy language:

  1. Endogenous causes (within the body of the organism or genetically determined)
  2. Exogenous causes (secondary acquired or environmental causes like Nutrition, Physical Trauma, Blood incompatibility, Toxic agents, consumption of drugs, Infectious diseases, Radioactivity, etc.)
  3. Perinatal causes (Premature birth, Traumatic birth injuries, Complications during delivery)
  4. Postnatal causes (Infections, Severe malnutrition, General health, Cultural factors, Brain injury, Social deprivation, etc.)
Common causes of Mental Retardation

1. Genetics: Sometimes, intellectual disability is caused by an inherited condition that affects a person’s genes. This means that it runs in families.

2. Brain damage: Damageed brain during pregnancy or childbirth can cause Intellectual disability. Brain damage can also occur after birth, due to accidents or illnesses.

3. Malnutrition: Not getting enough of the right nutrients during pregnancy or in early childhood can affect brain development and cause intellectual disability.

4. Exposure to toxins: Certain substances, such as lead or mercury, can damage the brain and cause intellectual disability.

5. Infections: Infections during pregnancy or in early childhood can cause intellectual disability. Examples of infections that can cause this include rubella, cytomegalovirus, and toxoplasmosis.

6. Lack of oxygen: If a baby doesn’t get enough oxygen during childbirth, this can cause brain damage and intellectual disability.

Identification of mental retardation

For early detection of mental retardation of a child, the parents and teachers refer the cases to the child guidance center so that their mental level may be ascertained and they may be classified for placement.

The following symptoms will help the teacher and the parents to decide whether the child should be sent to the Child Study Centre for screening or not. Screening test results must also be interpreted and matched in terms of the following diagnostic symptoms.

1. Development: We should take the development history of the suspected child into account, for example when the child begin to sit, crawl, stand, walk and talk, then the delayed development is generally seen in mentally retarded children, so retardation in these areas is helpful in diagnosing the child.

2. Size of the family: The larger the size of the family lower is the IQ score of the family. We should take this into consideration while making a decision.

3. Social adjustment: If a child is functioning normally in all socio-economic conditions as compared to his peers, there is no need of sending the child to a child guidance centre for proper screening. Mentally retarded children surely exhibit adjustment problems in social situations.

4. Learning ability failure: Failure in educational endeavors is another criterion for mental retardation, but the effects of socioeconomic and physical factors should also be taken into account because poor academic achievement is caused due to these factors also.

5. Academic achievement: Such children are generally very slow in academic achievements, due to a low level of retention power and understanding ability, when they constantly perform poorly in content-related skills due to repeated remedial measures adopted by teachers they are suspected to be mentally retarded.

6. Medical examination: Generally experts are responsible for this. Important physical symptoms of mentally retarded children are below:

  • He has a vacant look.
  • He has his/her lips fairly apart with his/her tongue visible in between the teeth and saliva.
  • He has an unusually large head.
  • He has a flattened skull, standing eyes, and saliva.

7. Proper screening: After identifying all the above symptoms, suspected mentally retarded children are properly screened by using different tests. These tests are:

  • Seguin form board test: This form board test was developed by Seguin, a French physician in 1972 to identify and screen mentally retarded children.
  • Development Screening test: This test is used to measure the mental development of children from the age of 3 months to 25 years.
  • General mental ability test: This test was developed by RP Srivastava and Kiran Saxena in 1985, verbal and nonverbal both types of items are included in it.

8. Adaptive behavior assessments: These assessments measure a person’s ability to function in daily life. They look at things like communication, social skills, and self-care.

Advantages of diagnosing mental retardation

  • Providing and estimating the individual’s present level functioning in terms of test performance, social adjustment, and so on.
  • Providing some predictions of the probable outcomes in the future.
  • Helping to provide proper care and treatment.
  • Providing information regarding the causes of the individual inadequate.
  • helping in making decisions regarding their Placement in proper educational programs.

Training and care of mentally retarded children:

  • A separate curriculum for MR children.
  • Cocurricular activities to be included in the curriculum.
  • Vocational education should be provided to them so that they can be self-dependent.
  • We should use Audio-visuals for teaching them.
  • Need of Special schools for mentally retarded students.
  • Institutes should appoint Trained teachers for teaching and training them.
  • They should be treated with love, sympathy, and cooperation.
  • The cooperation of parents/guardians is needed.
  • They should not be any fear of examinations.


Mental retardation is caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, brain damage, malnutrition, exposure to toxins, infections, and lack of oxygen. While there are several causes, it’s important to note that in many cases, the cause of intellectual disability is not known.

Identification of mental retardation usually involves a combination of intelligence testing, adaptive behavior assessments, developmental assessments, and medical evaluations. However, it’s important to consider a person’s individual strengths and weaknesses, as well as their environment and support system, when making a diagnosis of intellectual disability.

Early identification and intervention are crucial for individuals with intellectual disability to reach their full potential and lead fulfilling lives. With appropriate support and accommodations, individuals with intellectual disability can live independently, work, and contribute to their communities.

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