Mental Retardation


Parents should consult the information guide, Moving Forward, published by National Institute for the Mentally Handicapped, Secunderabad, India.

Q. How can we know that the child is mentally retarded?
A. Mental retardation is not a uniform phenomenon. It varies according to the nature of retardation, its severity and the child’s ability to cope with it. Such a child does not show ‘normal’ growth of mental abilities. This is seen as delayed development. World Health Organization reports that some specific signs and symptoms can point to the possibility of retardation and thus help in its early identification. These are mentioned below:
  1. The child does not learn new activities as easily as other children.
  2. The child has difficulty sitting up, using hands and moving from place to place.
  3. The child is slow to respond to verbal cues and to events in immediate environment.
  4. Child’s understanding of what s/he sees, hears, smells, touches and tastes is not at par with that of others of her age.
  5. The child has difficulty in expressing own needs or feelings in a manner others can understand.
  6. Growing up, child has difficulty in grasping similarities and differences among people and things. The child finds it difficult to develop notions of time, place, quantity, quality and cause and effect.
  7. The child has very short and small memory capacity of instructions and events.
  8. Such children are likely to have very short attention span for people and activities.
  9. Such children find it difficult to control their feelings.
  10. Simple decisions about social conduct such as dress, talk and such matters are not possible to make for such children.
Q. How early can we say that the child is mentally retarded?
A.Early detection depends upon the severity and the nature of retardation. Many genetic issues can be identified during pregnancy through various tests. Some conditions like Down’s Syndrome can be identified at the time of birth. If growth and development are delayed accompanied by neurological signs, mental retardation can be reasonably identified during the first year after birth. Between the ages of 3 and 5, it is possible to conduct the assessment of intellectual functioning and make a reliable diagnosis of mental retardation.

Q. Can we cure mental retardation with medicines?
A.At the present level of knowledge and technology, no drugs have been found to repair the damage to brain functioning leading to retardation. So mental retardation is considered to be an irreversible condition. However given this condition, it is possible to manage conduct of daily activities depending on degree of retardation.

Q. If there is no cure for mental retardation, what can be done with such children?
A.It is possible to teach such children within the limitations of the retarded condition to adapt to their surroundings and carry out activities essential for daily living (functional capacity). Professionals in special education are continuously developing ways of working with such children to enhance their functional capacities. Special Education has so far demonstrated that given a supportive environment and a programme of education, they achieve a measure of independence at the level of daily living. It is thus essential that parents seek advice at the earliest from agencies and institutions working in Special Education.

Q. Is mental retardation the same thing as madness?
A.Mentally challenged persons are not mad, they have limited ability to learn and develop. They learn slowly in relation to their actual age. Madness on the other hand is a disease which shows up in abnormal behavior. Persons who have normal mental capacity can also suffer from mental health issues and demonstrate disruptive behavior. Similarly some m7.entally retarded persons may also suffer mental emotiealth issues for which psychiatric help is provided.

Q. How does having a mentally retarded child affect the family?
A.Most of the parents and other members of the family feel sad or depressed at various stages of the child’s development. There is also the worry about the child’s future. Sometimes social contact is restricted or severely curtailed, as though the retarded condition of the child is like a blot on the family. Families could face rejection and/or neglect from close relatives, as though retardation is the family’s fault. In fact, it is at such conditions that the family needs emotional, financial and physical support most.

Q. Does presence of a mentally retarded child cast any positive influence on the family?
A.When the couple has had a good marital relationship of caring and understanding before the birth of a mentally retarded child, the couple tends to come closer to face the situation. Some parents report an increase in their patience and humanistic attitude. Brothers and sisters of such a child tend to become helpful, considerate and caring. Some of them choose caring and helping professions as a career. In their dealings with others, they become more cooperative and tolerant.

Q. Who could provide help to parents in dealing with their emotional reactions?
A.Trained Counselors, Psychologists and Social workers are available at Kamayani to help parents deal with their emotional reactions. Parents have to maintain a positive and stable frame of mind. Our staff have both experience and expertise in dealing with a variety of cases. Parents do well to talk out their problems and share their concerns with these experienced professionals who can be trusted m provide right guidance to the parents. It is always good to face your problem without delay rather than running away from it.

Q.Do parents of mentally retarded child have greater marital problems?
A.Parents have to guard against marital problems that could result from the care of the mentally retarded child. First there is likelihood of one parent blaming the other for the retardation of the child. Second is the sharing of the additional efforts needed for the care of the retarded child. Third there could be disagreements regarding the line of treatment to be followed. Fear of producing another retarded child, fatigue and lack of privacy may also create sexual problems between the parents. Seeking professional help should not be delayed by such parents.

Q. What kind of education is designed for mentally retarded children?
A.Special education for mentally retarded children aims at teaching adaptive living skills necessary to decrease dependence on others and to increase self dependence. Adaptive living skills are those functional abilities that are necessary for daily living in a particular regional context. Daily living may call for commuting, buying groceries and provisions, making phone calls, deposit and withdrawal of money and so on. The skills required for carrying out these kind of activities are categorized as follows;
  1. Motor skills: making coordinated physical movements, using simple instruments.
  2. Self care skills: personal hygiene, presentation and attire
  3. Social: following social norms in groups and public places
  4. Communication: expressing needs and requirements to others
  5. Functional Academic: reading, writing, counting
  6. Q. How much can a mentally retarded child benefit from such Education?
    A.Most students benefit from training in adaptive living skills. Those with mild retardation can also learn basic academic skills and go up to the level of normal Fifth Standard students. Besides acquiring skills, these children benefit from regular monitoring of health and behavior. Participation in sports and cultural activities is beneficial from the point of view of Social and Communication skills.

    There are four conditions that must be met for such education to be effective:
    1. First, the programme of education must be relevant to the child’s capacity and needs.
    2. Secondly, the education must be imparted in a systematic order.
    3. Thirdly, the family must take interest in educational activities and support the child fully.
    4. Lastly, the child must get opportunities to practice these skills both at home and in the community.