Article from The
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)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
retarded persons are unable to learn or to care for themselves. Actually,
in order to be diagnosed as mentally retarded, the person has to have both
significantly low IQ and considerable problems in adapting to everyday life.
However, most children who are retarded 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 significantly retarded child.
This is not done anymore. Now these children are expected to stay in the
family and take part in community life. The law guarantees them educational
and other services at public expense.
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 child's potential.
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 coordinate 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 are a frequent complication of mental retardation, and they
may interfere with the child's progress. Most retarded children 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withdrawn or anxious, or act "bad" to get the attention of other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. Retarded adolescents and young adults 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, and sleeping.
Early diagnosis of
psychiatric disorders in retarded youngsters may lead to early treatment.
Contrary to common belief, medications are not the only means of treating
persons who are retarded, and most of them can benefit from other psychiatric
treatment as well.
A periodic child psychiatric
consultation may help the family in setting appropriate expectations,
limits, opportunities to succeed and other measures which will help their
retarded child to handle the stresses of growing up into a fulfilled person.