- What types of limitations are associated
with mental retardation?
- Why is
the term “mental retardation” often avoided? Why is its use sometimes
- Describe the four
general causes of mental retardation.
- Describe the two types of functioning that are
assessed when diagnosing mental retardation.
What is Mental
Mental retardation is “a term used when a
person has certain limitations in mental functioning and in skills such
as communicating, taking care of him or herself, and social
skills. These limitations will cause a child to learn and
develop more slowly than a typical child. Children with mental
retardation may take longer to learn to speak, walk, and take care of
their personal needs, such as dressing or eating. They are also likely
to have trouble learning in school. They will learn, but it will take
them longer. There may be some things they cannot learn.”
National Dissemination Center for Children with
For a more formal definition, and a
great deal more information, please refer to the website run
Arc, a long-standing national
in the field of mental retardation. Their web site is at: http://www.thearc.org.
We will reference other The Arc online
articles in this unit!
Should we use the term “mental
The Arc does not use the term
“mental retardation” in their mission statement. Rather, they say that
“…work to include children and adults
with cognitive, intellectual and developmental disabilities in every
The term “mental retardation” is offensive to many people,
and is best avoided whenever possible. However, as The
ARC points out, in some states, the diagnosis and label
“mental retardation” is needed to provide eligibility for special
protections and services. For this reason, and for brevity, we will use
the term “mental retardation” in this course.
What Causes Mental
From the National
Dissemination Center for Children with
“Doctors have found many causes of mental
retardation. The most common are:
Sometimes mental retardation is caused by abnormal genes inherited from
parents, errors when genes combine, or other reasons.
Examples of genetic conditions are:
- Problems during
Mental retardation can result when a fetus does not
develop properly in utero. For example, there may be a problem
with the way the fetus's cells divide as it grows. A woman
who drinks alcohol or gets an infection like rubella during pregnancy
may also have a baby with mental retardation.
- Problems at
birth. If a baby has problems
during labor and birth, causing anoxia, he or she may have mental
Diseases like whooping cough, the measles, or meningitis can cause
mental retardation. Mental retardation can also be caused by
extreme malnutrition, insufficient medical care,
or exposure to poisons like lead or mercury.
Mental retardation is not a
disease. Mental retardation is also not a type of mental
illness, like depression. While strategies for education,
training and habilitation have been perfected through decades of
research, there is no cure for mental