What Are Signs Of Mental Retardation In Children?

Mental retardation in children is a debilitating condition that is not always easily diagnosed. Part of the problem is that mental retardation may not become apparent for many years, sometime showing up later in life. The condition is also not limited to just one single disorder. It is used to describe a number of problems, diseases, and dysfunctions that cause mental impairment. Mental retardation comes in varying degrees and severity, requiring different treatments on an individual basis. While only a doctor can diagnose and treat mental retardation in children, here is some basic information that you should know.

Statistics Of Mental Retardation

Mental retardation can affect anywhere from 2 to 3% of all children. It is not influenced by age, race, or gender. The condition normally occurs during a child’s developmental years which can be anywhere from gestation to teenage years.

There are many different levels of mental retardation. The categories are: Mild, Moderate, Severe, and Profound. Of all children who are diagnosed, approximately 75 to 90% of all cases are mild. Severe and Profound retardation only occurs in approximately 6 to 7% of all cases.


Children with mild retardation function at half the normal IQ level. They may act and respond slower than a normally functioning person and may even appear normal with no physical abnormalities.

Children with severe mental retardation only function at about a fifth of the normal IQ range. They are remarkably slower at all functions and may or may not be capable of normal speech. Severe mental retardation requires some supervision although basic self-care skills can be taught.

What Causes Mental Retardation

Rarely is the cause for mental retardation ever known. One such cause for mental retardation in a child is genes. Defects can be hereditary and pass from one generation to the next. It doesn’t take much for something to go wrong.

The human chromosome carries our genes which decides many of our characteristics such as how we look, act, and think. Anything that is out of place such as an abnormal gene, a mutation, or a defect in our chromosome can cause mental retardation.

The two most common chromosomal defects that can cause retardation is the X Syndrome and Downs Syndrome. X Syndrome is a defect in the chromosome that determines a child’s sex while Downs Syndrome is due to having an additional chromosome. There is an entire list of possible syndromes that can affect a child but again, only a doctor can diagnose which one a child might have.

Other factors of mental retardation at birth can be traced back to the mother’s pregnancy. If the mother suffered from any illnesses during the pregnancy or she herself has a case of behavioral problems, then any of these could be the cause. Drugs (either illegal or prescription), alcohol, bad nutrition, and the consumption of other chemical substances could affect a baby’s development while in the womb.

Environmental factors can cause mental retardation as well. These include things like toxins, bacteria, infections, premature births or difficult births, head trauma, poor postnatal nutrition, and postnatal neglect.

What Are Some Of The Symptoms

Symptoms for mental retardation vary greatly, as does the time frame of when they are likely to appear. In some children with severe retardation, symptoms may be apparent soon after birth or even within the first year or two. In other case, it may take some time before these symptoms appear.

The most common symptom is developmental slowness in comparison to other children their age. They will display difficulty in performing tasks and may take longer to learn to walk and talk. Their communication skills may be very limited or they may have trouble expressing themselves.

Some children with mental retardation might become easily frustrated and show signs of aggression. Some cases have even shown that mentally impaired children who become frustrated will injure themselves.

Other symptoms include an inability to adapt to new situations and learning disabilities in school. They could have trouble remembering things and may have to repeat some tasks numerous times before they remember how. Mentally impaired children, even those with a mild condition, may have trouble with social skills. Physical traits and disfigurements are also a sign.  Children diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Downs Syndrome will have distinctive physical appearances.

For symptoms that do not appear until late in a child’s school years, it could be easily mistaken for a learning disability. Poor grades alone are not a sign of mental retardation, though. It is accompanied by other symptoms as well.

Additional Disorders Along With Mental Retardation

Often children who are diagnosed with mental retardation will suffer from a number of other mental or emotional problems. Studies have shown that mental impairment opens one up to other ailments which further hinders their development and ability to cope with society.

Seizures are present in about 20% to 30% of all children with mental retardation. This also includes motor and visual impairment.

About 18% of all children with mental retardation suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Behavior disorders are very common in retardation cases. Children who are impaired have trouble displaying good behavior as defined by society. They are often prone to tantrums and are likely to injure themselves or someone else. About 10% will also experience symptoms of schizophrenia and anxiety.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is also found later in life with mentally handicapped children. Children with mental retardation often find themselves targets to abuse in school from other children. Because they are overly sensitive to their environments and are dependent on others, they are vulnerable to this type of stress.

How Is It Diagnosed

Only a doctor can properly diagnose a child for mental retardation. If a child is suspected of having a mental illness, their doctor can perform tests to try to determine the cause. A child neurologist can also help by determining if the child suffers from any neurological diseases or disorders.

There are three criteria to determine if a child has a form of mental retardation. The first is the child must have an IQ of below 70. The second is that child must have trouble in adaptive behavior such as communication, self-help, and behavior. The third is the child must display these symptoms before they are 18 years of age.

What Are Treatments

Treatments for mental retardation in children vary depending on the severity. After diagnosis, a doctor may help a family to develop a plan for their child. Schools have special education programs and curriculum so that their child can gain an education.

There are numerous family support groups and therapy sessions that a family can attend in order to help their child develop and to help the family in raising a child with special needs. Most of these groups are free of charge and are held by volunteer services. Along with everything else, doctors recommend that the best thing for mentally impaired children is a loving environment and a supportive family.