Mental Retardation In Children - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

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There isn’t anything more heartbreaking than witnessing your child suffer because of mental challenges. At such a delicate time, you may ask, what makes a child mentally retarded? Probably, you notice that your child cannot complete simple tasks, and is easily agitated by life events. We attempt to support you in such a situation through this post.

Here, we talk about the common factors that lead to mental retardation in children and how to cope with the situation.

What Is Mental Retardation?

Mental retardation is an intellectual disability that appears in children at a tender age. Such children posses a lower-than average intelligence, cognitive ability and social skills.

Mentally retarded children suffer from poor impulse control and react to simple situations aggressively. Due to the poor IQ levels, such children are easily agitated and frustrated by complex life events (1).

[ Read: Mental Illness In Children ]

Types Of Mental Retardation In Children:

There are four broad categories of mental retardation depending upon the severity of the disorder.

1. Mild Mental Retardation:

  • Approximately 8 out of 10 mentally challenged children fall into the mildly retarded category.
  • The IQ score of afflicted children ranges from 50-75, and they can pursue their academic skills of the primary grade.
  • The afflicted child can take a longer to learn the communication skills, but once trained properly can communicate well with others.
  • Some of the common traits of the mildly retarded child are a problem with writing and reading, unable to take decisions, and socially immature.
  • Mildly retarded children can live a self-sufficient and independent lifestyle with optimum social and parent support.

2. Moderate Mental Retardation:

  • About 10% of the mentally retarded children fall into the category of moderate retardation.
  • The IQ score of such children may lie between 35-55.
  • The afflicted child can perform self-care tasks like bathing, eating and going out under parental supervision and guidance.
  • The child can learn the basic writing, reading and counting skills.
  • Although the child seems to be a slow learner, she can take part in simple day-to-day tasks.
  • When they acquire communication skills at a tender age, they can live a functional life, but within a supervised environment like a group home.

3. Severe Mental Retardation:

  • About 3-5 % of the mentally retarded children fall into the category of severe retardation.
  • The IQ score of severely retarded children lies between 20-40.
  • They can master some of the basic self-care activities and communication skills.
  • Most severely retarded children have to live in a group home.

4. Profound Mental Retardation:

  • Only 1-2% of mentally retarded children fall into the category of the profoundly retarded.
  • They have the IQ score lying below 20-25.
  • They can learn basic communication and self-care skills under proper support and training.
  • Your child gets afflicted with profound mental retardation when she undergoes a neurological disorder (2).

[ Read: Bipolar Disorder In Children ]

Causes Of Mental Retardation In Children:

Mental retardation exists in children who have under-developed brains, which do not function at a normal level. And, here we list some underlying causes of mental retardation in children:

1. Genetic Factors:

  • Around 3 out of 10 of mentally retarded children suffer from hereditary issues.
  • Inheriting abnormal genes from either parent, such children acquire the fragile X syndrome that results in a chromosomal defect.
  • Your child can get afflicted with Phenylketonuria (PKU), which again is a Single-gene defect and occurs after the childbirth.
  • Due to unwanted mutation during the genetic development, your child can become mentally retarded.

2. Parental Illnesses:

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is one of the alarming factors, which can lead to reduced intellectual ability.
  • During the first trimester of pregnancy, if you take illegal drugs or alcohol your baby can get afflicted with such syndrome. Researchers conclude that even moderate alcohol intake during pregnancy can lead to learning disabilities in children.
  • Additionally, cigarette smoking has also been closely associated with mental retardation.
  • When you suffer from maternal infections like rubella, toxoplasmosis, glandular disorders or cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, your unborn child can become afflicted with mental retardation.
  • During pregnancy, if you have a high blood pressure (hypertension), the blood flow to the unborn fetus gets disturbed and leads to the improper development of the brain.
  • Certain birth defects can also lead to physical deformities in your newborn’s brain, head, and central nervous system that can result in causing mental retardation.
  • If your child suffers from neural tube defect in which the formation of the spinal cord seems to be improper, the cerebrospinal fluid gets accumulated inside her skull, and she suffers from learning impairment.

3. Childhood Injuries Or Illnesses:

  • Some of the critical childhood illnesses like chickenpox, measles, whooping cough, and hyperthyroidism can lead to mental retardation if they are left untreated for a longer time span.
  • The infectious brain diseases like meningitis or encephalitis can impose unwanted swelling in the brain, which can lead to brain damage and mental retardation.
  • Traumatic brain injury that can occur during sudden road accidents or fall from greater heights can cause mental retardation in children.

4. Environmental Factors:

  • When you neglect or ignore the upbringing process of your growing baby, she may not acquire the requisite mental and physical stimulation. In such scenario, she may suffer from learning impairment, which can lead to mental retardation.
  • Children who are suffering from malnutrition, facing child abuse, living in poverty or unhealthy living conditions, or not getting adequate medical care can become mentally retarded at their tender age.
  • Higher exposure to toxic chemicals like lead or mercury can lead to mental retardation in children.

Symptoms Of Mental Retardation In Children:

Some of the common symptoms of mental retardation in children include:

  • Inability to meet the normal intellectual standards
  • Sitting, walking, or crawling at a later age
  • Trouble speaking clearly
  • Cannot memorize things
  • Inability to understand simple things
  • Unable to think logically
  • Learning difficulties
  • Childish behavior
  • Inability to take decisions alone
  • Slow to master day to day activities like dressing, potty training or eating alone

Mentally retarded children can often exhibit some of the following behavioral symptoms:

  • Dependency
  • Aggression
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Stubbornness
  • Tendency toward self-injury
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Attention difficulties
  • Low self-esteem
  • Passivity
  • Low tolerance level (3)

[ Read: ADHD In Children ]

Characteristics Of Mentally Retarded Children:

Deficits in learning new things and poor cognitive functioning are some of the common behavioral traits of mentally retarded children. Such a child will have a poor memory, attention problems, and slow learning rates. Let us take a look at the characteristics of mentally retarded children:

1. Poor Memory:

  • Children with intellectual disability find difficult to remember information, such as names, phone numbers and small details.
  • According to the severity of retardation, the child suffers from mild to severe cognitive impairment, which reflects through her memorizing ability.
  • Researchers conclude that mentally retarded children often have a short-term memory, and they cannot recall the simple event that occurred a few seconds or minutes back.

2. Slow Learning Rate:

  • The rate, at which the mentally retarded child learns new skills and knowledge, lies far below a normal healthy child.
  • Such a child may need regular [parental assistance to perform the daily activities.
  • As the child has a poor learning rate, the parents need to repeat the instructions for several times, until she understands it clearly.

3. Poor Attention:

  • The mentally retarded child has a weak concentration power, and she cannot focus on the activities with utmost attention.
  • Due to poor attention, she cannot attain a higher education at the later stage of life.

4. Lack Of Interest:

  • Some of the mentally retarded children exhibit an apparent lack of interest in problem-solving tasks.
  • Due to repeated failure, they lose hope and thereby withdraw interests from social activities.

Diagnosing Mental Retardation In Children:

For intellectual disability, there can be different underlying causes for the condition in your child.

  • When your baby suffers from physical abnormalities that indicate a metabolic or genetic disorder, the doctor may recommend for several tests. It may include urine tests, blood tests, imaging tests (for diagnosing structural problems in the brain) or electroencephalogram (EEG) to diagnose symptoms of seizures.
  • If your child exhibits slow development rate or learning skills, the doctor conducts few medical tests to diagnose problems like hearing issues or neurological disorders.

Treating Mentally Retarded Children:

The government entitles your mentally deprived child to undergo individualized education and skills training, at the special schools. Children above the age of three years can attend such schools and acquire the early intervention programs. The training primarily makes the mentally retarded child master some basic day to day skills like feeding, eating the food, recognizing alphabets and numbers, and to communicate with others. Some of the unique social and extracurricular activities help in boosting the self-esteem of the child.

The level of training dep[ends upon the severity of the retardation. The mildly retarded child may need less support or assistance to live independently or perform different tasks. While the moderate to profoundly retarded children have to reside in the supervised community and live under strict supervision.

Family therapy helps the parents of the mentally retarded child to cope up with the situation. They can handle their child with utmost ease. It is imperative for the parents to create a supportive and homely environment that can make the child feel courageous and motivated.

[ Read: Tips To Handle Hyperactive Children ]

Preventing Mental Retardation In Children:

Here are some of the useful tips that may keep your child protected from mental retardation:

  • It is vital for your growing child to get all the requisite immunization for harmful infectious diseases like measles and chicken pox, at the predefined age. Some of these infectious diseases can hamper the brain functioning of your child and lead to mental retardation.
  • Your growing kid needs to undergo developmental screening, conducted by the pediatric specialist. Such testing helps in treating malnourished children so that they can get requisite nutrients for their development process.
  • Proper prenatal care can also help small children to overcome mental retardation. During pregnancy, the mother should remain educated about the risks of drug usage and alcohol consumption. They should lead a healthy lifestyle, for the betterment of their unborn baby. The pregnant mother should undergo routine health checkups and Ultrasonography test, to ascertain healthy development of the fetus in her womb.

Common Problems Faced by Parents Of Intellectually Retarded Children:

  • Raising a mentally retarded child requires significant emotional flexibility and strength. As your child needs special care, you need to pay close attention to his basic needs like caregiving, medical acre, day to day assistance, and educational responsibility.
  • Parents of intellectually retarded children often experience a gamut of mental trauma like depression, hopelessness, and sorrow. The constant fight to raise the child can make them addicted to alcohol use or smoking.
  • The parents often feel physically exhausted, as they have to work excessively to fulfill all the necessities of their child. Since the child cannot perform his daily activities independently, the parents have to remain constantly involved in their life.
  • Parents of the mentally retarded child have to face complex problems related to child’s education.
  • Raising a mentally retarded child can be far more expensive that upbringing a healthy child. Parents have to spend extra bucks on his education, training, counseling, and medical car (4).

What Can Parents Do To Help The Mentally Retarded Child?

Here are some of the useful parenting tips, which may help you in upbringing a mentally retarded child:

  • Learn everything about intellectual disabilities through various sources, so that you can take care of your retarded child, in a profound manner.
  • Encourage your afflicted child to try new things in her life. Never scold her or demotivate her, when she performs a thing inaccurately. It is better to encourage your kid’s independence, and let her learn new skill slowly. Provide requisite guidance and give positive feedback, so that you child feels motivated and can perform simple activities independently.
  • Make your mentally retarded child take part in different group activities like singing, dancing, or painting. It may help building her social skills, and she can master the things slowly.
  • Always stay involved in your child’s life and try to follow her progress rate at schools. It allows you to keep a track of your child’s learning rate and you can encourage her to try new things in her life.
  • Join a community or a group that comprises of other guardians of intellectually disabled children. By meeting such people, you can get the best advice and emotional support.
  • Learn about different strategies that may help you manage your child’s behavior. It may include: chatting, offering rewards, time-out, or ignoring certain behaviors.
  • Using such strategies you can build a stronger bonding with your retarded child.
  • Pay close attention to your child’s aggressive behaviors. If required, take your child to counselors who can help your kid overcome anger, frustration and feel positive about himself.

Are you a proud parent of a mentally retarded child? How did you cope up with your child’s behavior? Share your parenting tips with other mommies here!


The article is intended for information purposes, and not to offend anyone.

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