Characteristics of Mental Retardation, Prevalence, Etiology, and Treatment Interventions

Mental retardation is a situation whereby there occurs a difficulty or insufficiency in the development of a child. It is the most common form of the disabilities that occur during development. The intelligence of a mentally retarded person is low, and such a person may have difficulties in learning. It takes longer for such a person to learn simple social activities such as associating with others or communicating effectively. It is difficult for mentally retarded people to care for themselves. They need constant observation by a guardian in order to prevent them from getting in to trouble due to their inability to avoid unsafe situations even as adults.

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A major characteristic of mental retardation is the difficulty to learn. Physical development is usually delayed leading to the occurrence of physical disabilities. Difficulties in verbal communication, visual weaknesses, problems with hearing and epilepsy are some physical disabilities that are common in mentally retarded people. However, even people without mental retardation can also have some of these physical impairments.

Prevalence of Mental Retardation

The prevalence of mental retardation is highly dependent on medical care, advancement in medical technology as well as peoples’ feelings towards management of cases of mental retardation in the society. It also depends on environmental and social economic conditions of the population. In the United States, research established that mental retardation increases with age, with many cases being reported below the age of 20years. It was also established that mental retardation was more in males than in females (James 2000).


Typical Age of Onset

The age of onset is usually before 18 years. In reference to IQ, mental retardation can be of four levels depending on the age of onset. At the age of eight to eleven years, mental retardation is usually mild. At the age of six to eight years, it is usually moderate. At the age of three to six years, it is normally severe while it is referred to as profound once it occurs between the age between birth and three and a half years.


There are numerous disabilities that are connected to mental retardation. These disorders play a fundamental role in mental retardation. The causes can be broken down in to three. There are those that occur before birth which are associated with prenatal factors. It has been established that in the United States, consumption of alcohol during the first trimester of pregnancy causes fetal alcohol syndrome in children. Studies indicate that even little amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can cause learning difficulties in children. Other prenatal causes of mental retardation include smoking and drug abuse. Infections in the mother during pregnancy such as glandular and toxoplasmosis are also known to cause mental retardation.

Brain damage may occur in the fetus due to high blood pressure in the mother. This is a potential cause of mental retardation. Mental retardation may also be caused by perinatal complications associated with premature birth. Poor conditions of growth and development are also potential causes of mental retardation. Physical and emotional stress may hinder a child’s development. Lack of proper care especially for infants poses a great risk to learning in children. Mental retardation may also be caused by genetic factors. These are usually caused by chromosomal mutation resulting in defects such as Down syndrome. Of all these causes of mental retardation, causes associated with prenatal factors account for 20 ton 30 percent of the severe cases. The cases associated with perinatal factors account for 11 percent (Edward & Hackman 1998). Few cases are reported to be associated with post natal factors.

Recommended Interventions

Interventions should take in to consideration the level of mental retardation as well as family concerns. The mentally retarded should be allowed to enjoy what the healthy enjoy. They should be allowed to interact with the rest and enjoy the resources that are available for the community as a whole. Care centers should be established for infants and the young who are mentally retarded. Home based care can also be provided. The interventions should be meant for developing family capabilities in order for the society to be in a capacity to care for the mentally retarded. These interventions should include assistive technology, addressing nutritional concerns as well as providing occupational therapy (Ranga & Denise 2006).

Interventions to prevent the occurrence of mental retardation are necessary to reduce the risk posed on unborn babies. These can be done through educating mothers on the dangers posed to their unborn due to certain practices such as drug abuse. Recreational activities should be provided for the children in order to promote their growth and development. Parents should be trained on bringing up their children in order to reduce cases of mental retardation. Those taking care of the mentally retarded should be given the appropriate training in order for them to understand the best way to offer care services to the mentally retarded. The children should be taught to take care of themselves so as to promote self reliance. Treatment should be offered for the treatable disorders.

Educational Concerns

Promoting self reliance is of utmost importance for the mentally retarded. It provides skills that can assist them to take care of themselves. This education also assists them in acquiring knowledge on how to access basic needs for survival. The approach used to offer education depends on the needs and the level of mental retardation. The quality of education is dependent on the social economic status of the community that is in charge of the mentally retarded person. For poor communities, the quality of education and the level of support that mentally retarded children get in schools is usually relatively low compared to those growing in communities that are well up

Assistive and Supportive Technologies

There are several devices that are used to assist persons with mental disabilities. These are used for learning purposes or for assisting them to access some of the basic needs such as physical movement. These normally help them overcome disabilities associated with lack of vital functions of particular body organs. They can assist them in hearing, moving e.g. through the use of a wheel chair as well as in learning. They are especially important in improving the memory of individuals who suffer from memory loss. Systems containing auditory devices assist people who are mentally retarded to move and do shopping as well (Michael 2003).

Family Considerations

It is usually stressful for families that have to take care of their mentally retarded especially if they do not possess the skills needed for such home based care. The level of care for the mentally retarded usually differs between families depending on their economic welfare. Poor families can rarely afford to take their mentally retarded children to school thereby becoming a burden to them. Children who grow up in such circumstances usually lack a chance to enjoy the resources of their community mainly due to discrimination. Education should be offered to families that provide home based care. They should be taught how to cope with stress associated with mental retardation.


  1. Edward, E & Hackman, R. (1998). Education for the Mentally Retarded. Journal of Psychology, 55(3), 259-286.
  2. Ranga, R & Denise, M. (2006). Healthcare: The Problems are Organizational not Clinical. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27(7), 45-83.
  3. James, D. (2000). Human-Dynamics. Interpersonal Skills for Team Building, 37(8). 132-175.
  4. Michael, G. (2003). Importance of Proper Child Care. Journal of Human Education and Development, 17(4), 85-138.


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