Mild Mental Retardation

Mild mental retardation is a diagnosis given to children and adults whose scores on a standardized intelligence test fall between eighty and one hundred. In many ways the children and adults with mild mental retardation seem very normal and reasonably intelligent. However, in certain areas of academia or life skills these people or children fall short and have difficulty catching up to their peers.

Mild mental retardation (MMR) has many causes. Anoxia at birth, child abuse, genetics, drugs and alcohol abuse by the mother while the child is in utero; all of these are causes for MMR. Diagnoses in which MMR is secondary to the primary diagnostic axis are Fragile X, Down’s Syndrome, and a few other more common diagnoses. There have even been cases whereby a mother thought she had cancer and started receiving chemotherapy before they discovered she was pregnant. The mental retardation occurred because the mother’s chemo affected brain development in the early stages.

It’s typically diagnosed when a child is a little older than preschool age, unless there’s an obvious disorder at birth like Down’s. A child has to be able to talk in order to perform intelligence tests, and some intelligence tests have to wait until school age. Parents can generally tell if there’s something amiss with their child’s ability to learn between age three and age six, when most of these children are referred for an evaluation.

MMR can be the primary diagnosis, but only if there are no primary causes of it present. In approximately eighty percent of all the MMR cases, a primary diagnosis precedes MMR on the four diagnostic axes. While it’s not unheard of, MMR in autistic children and adults is rare because of the way autism wires the brain. The “idiot savants” of sixty or more years ago were considered to have MMR because they couldn’t answer standard every day questions, but this notion has been proven invalid and thus “idiot savant” is no longer used to describe people and children with autism.

In more cases where autism is the co-diagnosis with another syndrome is supposed to have MMR as part of its own diagnosis, as in Down’s, the autism actually prevents the MMR from coming through. This suggests that the two diagnoses have some genetic connection but autism somehow has a stronger bearing on the development of the child than the Down’s they were born with. The problem is, so very few of these children are born it makes it extremely difficult to study just what it is about autism that alters the intellectual capacity of the Down’s children.

Mild mental retardation does not have a cure. It usually does not have a negative impact on the quality of life of the individuals who have it, and many can lead quite normal lives. Most might require extra assistance as adults since little things like balancing a checkbook or formulating a monthly budget don’t make much sense to them. They tend to be easily persuaded to do things even when those things seem wrong to them, and need guidance in decision making skills. Other than that, children and adults with no other diagnosis can live and lead very full lives. Some have even been married and raised children of their own, since the barriers of discrimination have dropped in the seventies (thanks to the laws passed by JFK). Their intelligence levels do not affect their physical abilities, and many children and adults with MMR live to a very ripe old age.

What is the difference between mental retardation and autism?

1 comment

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