Intellectual disability, also referred to as mental retardation, is a disability that begins in childhood. People with intellectual disability have limitations in their mental functioning seen in below-average intelligence (IQ) tests and in their ability to communicate, socialize, and take care of their everyday needs. The degree of disability can vary greatly from person to person and be categorized as mild, moderate, severe, or profound.
Some cases of intellectual disability can be prevented with proper medical care. Children diagnosed with an intellectual disability are most successful when they get help early in life. If you suspect that your child may have an intellectual disability, contact your doctor.
Several hundred causes of intellectual disability have been discovered, but many are still unknown. The most common ones are:
A child could be at higher risk for intellectual disability due to any of the causes listed above, or due to mental retardation in other family members. If you are concerned that your child is at risk, tell your child's doctor.
Symptoms appear before a child reaches age 18 and vary depending on the degree of the intellectual disability. If you think your child has any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to intellectual disability. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If your child experiences any one of them, contact your pediatrician.
The following categories are often used to describe the level of intellectual disability, according to the American Family Physician:
Your doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Standardized tests may be given that measure:
Because children with mental retardation have a higher risk for other disabilities (such as hearing impairment , visual problems, seizures , attention deficit hyperactivity disorder , or orthopaedic conditions), additional testing may be needed to check for other conditions.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your child. Treatment is most helpful if it begins early in life. Treatment includes:
To help reduce your child’s chance of becoming mentally retarded, take the following steps:
The Arc of the United States
Disabilities Home Page
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Canadian Psychological Association
Special Olympics Canada
American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities website. Available at: http://www.aamr.org/Policies/faq_intellectual_disability.shtml . Accessed April 30, 2008.
Causes and prevention of mental retardation. The Arc website. Available at: http://www.thearc.org/faqs/causesandprev.pdf . Accessed July 15, 2005.
Daily D, Ardinger H, Holmes G. Identification and evaluation of mental retardation. American Family Physician website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20000215/1059.html .
Definition of mental retardation and mental retardation fact sheet. American Association on Mental Retardation website. Available at: http://www.aamr.org/Policies/faq_mental_retardation.shtml . Accessed July 15, 2005.
Intellectual disability. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dd/ddmr.htm . Accessed April 30, 2008.
Introduction to mental retardation. The Arc website. Available at http://www.thearc.org/faqs/intromr.pdf . Accessed July 15, 2005.
Mental retardation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dd/ddmr.htm . Accessed July 15, 2005.
Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics . 17th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2004.
Questions and answers about persons with intellectual disabilities in the workplace. US Equal Employment Opportunities Commission website. Available at: http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/intellectual_disabilities.html . Accessed April 30, 2008.
Last reviewed January 2009 by Theodor B. Rais, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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