What Is Mental Retardation?

What Is Mental Retardation?

Intelligence or intellectual function can be defined as an individual’s mental capacity for reasoning, problem-solving, planning, learning and comprehending complex concepts. If someone faces trouble learning and doing age-appropriate daily activities, he might have below-average intellectual function or an IQ below 70. This delay in overall mental development is called mental retardation, also known as Intellectual disability. Keep reading to learn more about mental retardation and what causes mental retardation.

What is Mental Retardation in Psychology?

Mental retardation is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects one’s ability to learn and perform daily activities. It impacts behaviour, social skills, and the ability to maintain hygiene and care for oneself. It develops in childhood and can be diagnosed based on 3 criteria.

  • Intellectual Challenges in academic and experiential learning, reasoning, problem-solving, judgement, and abstract thinking.
  • Difficulty in adaptive functioning like communication, social skills, and independent living.
  • The onset of intellectual and adaptive function symptoms in childhood or adolescence.

What are Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities?

The term ‘Mental Retardation’ is no longer used as many people find it offensive. Hence it has been replaced by the term ‘ Intellectual Disability (ID)’ also known as Intellectual Development Disorder (IDD). So now we know what is ID in mental health or what is IDD in mental health. Let us understand the level of severity of ID.

The severity of the intellectual disability may range from mild, to severe to profound. 

  1. People with mild severity can lead an independent life with minimum support but may experience trouble in learning concepts and socialising. 
  2. Severe intellectual disability leads to developmental delay and the child may have limited communication skills.
  3. Profound severity leads to the development of medical conditions because the child cannot perform any physical activity and needs full-time support.

What are Symptoms of Mental Retardation?

Symptoms of mental retardation start showing in early childhood. Sometimes these symptoms may be physical such as abnormal appearance, large or small head, abnormal hands or feet. On the other hand, some children who appear physically healthy may exhibit signs of intellectual disability such as

  1. Difficulty in speaking
  2. Late to learn movement, walking, dressing and self-feeding
  3. Delayin achieving intellectual milestones
  4. Difficulty in following instructions
  5. Poor judgement
  6. Struggling to develop social skills
  7. Delayed motor skills
  8. Aggressive behaviour
  9. Seizures
  10. Hard to remember things
  11. Difficulty in problem-solving, and expressing emotions

What Causes Severe Mental Retardation?

Identifying the exact cause of a child’s mental retardation may be difficult but here are some common causes:

  1. Complications during pregnancy
  2. Illness/infection affecting brain development during a young age
  3. Genetic factors
  4. Environmental factors
  5. Emotional or physical abuse
  6. Malnutrition
  7. Down syndrome
  8. Head injury
  9. Premature birth

What are the Different Types of Mental Retardation?

Given below are some of the different conditions that can be classified as an intellectual disability:

1. Fragile X Syndrome

It is the most common type of intellectual disability caused by a genetic mutation in the X chromosome. Some common signs are developmental delays, anxiety, ADHD, poor eye contact, etc.

2. Down Syndrome

It is a genetic disorder where a baby is born with an extra chromosome which affects how the brain and body develop. People suffering from Down syndrome have some common physical characteristics such as small hands and ears, short stature, flattened nose and face, upward slant of the eyes, etc. Such people have learning disabilities and may suffer from respiratory or heart conditions.

3. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

This is a condition caused by alcohol abuse during pregnancy. Even small amounts of alcohol consumed during pregnancy can cause this condition. The signs include distinct facial features, deformity in joints, learning disability, poor memory, etc.

4. Autism

It is a neurodevelopmental condition that can cause difficulty in communication, abnormal behaviour and social challenges. Some common signs are poor eye contact, lack of interest in socialising, and non-verbal communication.

5. Prader-Willi Syndrome

It is a rare genetic condition that affects the mental and physical development of a child. It is characterised by chronic eating that may lead to obesity. Other signs are behavioural issues and delay in intellectual development.

How to Treat Mental Retardation?

After knowing what are the types of mental retardation, we know that mental retardation is not a mental illness or disease but a disability with no cure or medication for it. However, depending on the severity of mental retardation, certain kinds of therapy may help children lead an independent life. These therapies include:

  • Developmental Therapy- It helps a child achieve developmental milestones according to age and improves independent function. It is suitable for ages up to 13 years.
  • Occupational Therapy- It includes training for performing daily activities, hand function enhancement therapy, handwriting enhancement, etc.
  • Special Education- It helps in academic skills such as reading, writing, computer skills, toileting, self-help, problem-solving, etc.
  • Speech Therapy- It helps children in communication and speech development. Also helps in alternative communication when verbal communication is not possible.


Is Mental Retardation Covered Under Health Insurance?

Yes, the Nirmaya Health Insurance scheme has been introduced by National Trust to provide health insurance coverage to people having autism, mental retardation or cerebral palsy. Every individual with developmental disability, who is enrolled with the National Trust is eligible for the best health insurance policy under this scheme.


Supporting a loved one with intellectual disabilities can be quite a humbling experience. In such cases, you can help your child live a functional life by learning about the condition, participating in the treatment, seeking support from groups and other parents and exposing your child to normal activities. Care Health Insurance offers plans that cover hospitalisation expenses for a wide range of mental illnesses.

Disclaimers: The above information is for reference purposes only: Policy Assurance and Claims at the underwriter’s discretion.

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