The term "mental
retardation" is often misunderstood and seen
as derogatory. Some think that retardation is diagnosed only on
the basis of below-normal intelligence (IQ), and that persons
with mental retardation are unable to learn or to care for themselves.
Actually, in order to be diagnosed as a person with mental retardation,
the person has to have both significantly low IQ and considerable
problems in adapting to everyday life. However, most children
with mental retardation can learn a great deal, and as adults
can lead at least partially independent lives. Most importantly,
they can enjoy their lives just as everyone else.
In the past, parents were usually
advised to institutionalize a child with significant mental retardation.
This is not done anymore. The goal now is for the child with mental
retardation to stay in the family and take part in community life.
In most states, the law guarantees them educational and other
services at public expense.
Mental retardation may be complicated
by physical and emotional problems. The child may also have difficulty
with hearing, sight or speech. All these problems can lower the
It is very important that the child
has a comprehensive evaluation to find out about his or her difficulties,
as well as strengths. Since no specialist has all the necessary
skills, many professionals might be involved. General medical
tests as well as tests in areas such as neurology (the nervous
system), psychology, psychiatry, special education, hearing, speech
and vision, and physical therapy are useful. A pediatrician or
a child and adolescent psychiatrist often coordinates these tests.
These physicians refer the child
for the necessary tests and consultations, put together the results,
and jointly with the family and the school develop a comprehensive
treatment and education plan.
Emotional and behavioral disorders
may be associated with mental retardation, and they may
interfere with the child's progress. Most children with mental
retardation recognize that they are behind others of their own
age. Some may become frustrated, withdrawn or anxious, or act
"bad" to get the attention of other youngsters and adults.
Adolescents and young adults with mental retardation
may become depressed. These persons might not have enough language
skills to talk about their feelings, and their depression may
be shown by new problems, for instance in their behavior, eating
Early diagnosis of psychiatric
disorders in children with mental retardation leads to early treatment.
Medications are one part of overall treatment and management of
children with mental retardation.
Periodic consultation may with
a child and adolescent psychiatrist help the family in setting
appropriate expectations, limits, opportunities to succeed, and
other measures which will help their child with mental retardation
handle the stresses of growing up.
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