Mental Retardation

(Also Known As: Retardation, Down Syndrome, Learning Disability, Mentally Retarded, Borderline Mental Retardation, Autism Mental Retardation)

(Reviewed by: Paul Peterson, Licensed Therapist)

What is Mental Retardation?

Mental retardation is a condition wherein the individual has below average intelligence manifested from birth until early infancy which brings about limited performance of daily living skills. The term “mental retardation” has somewhat created a negative social stigma which prompted doctors and health care practitioners to start replacing it with “intellectual disability”. Because of the recent change, “mental retardation/intellectual disability” is being used to signify the change in terminology.

MR/ID is not a specific medical disorder, such as pneumonia or step throat, nor is it a mental illness. A child diagnosed with the disorder has a significantly below average intellect, which hinders their ability to utilize more than two adaptive skills. These daily living skills may include communication, home living, taking care of themselves, decision making, participation in extra curricular activities, social skills, school and work activities, and awareness of personal health and safety. There are four levels of MR/ID:


  • The intelligence quotient for this MR/ID level is at 52-69.
  • At pre-school age (Birth to 6 years), the child has the ability to perform social and communication skills. Their motor coordination is slightly damaged. This level of retardation is not diagnosed until the child’s later years.
  • At school age (6 – 20 years), the child has the ability to learn up to Grade 6 level by late teens. They have the ability to learn proper social skills.
  • At adulthood (21 years above), the social and vocational skills they have acquired is enough to support themselves. However, they may require guidance and assistance during unusual social or economic stress.


  • The intelligence quotient for this level is 36-51
  • At pre-school age, the child can talk or learn communication skills. They exhibit fair motor coordination skills. They can benefit from self-help training.
  • At school age, they can learn some social and occupational skills. They can proceed to the elementary level as far as schoolwork is concerned. The child can travel on their own to places they are familiar with.
  • As an adult, they can become self-supporting by doing unskilled or semiskilled jobs under sheltered conditions. They may require support and supervision when placed in mild social or economic stress.


  • The intelligence quotient for this level is 20-35.
  • At pre-school age, the child has limited words. The child has the ability to learn a few self-help skills. They have limited communication skills and have poor motor coordination.
  • At school age, they can communicate or learn communication skills. They can learn basic health habits. They can benefit from habit training.
  • As an adult, they can do their part of self-care under total supervision. They can learn useful self-protection skills in controlled situations.


  • The intelligence quotient for this level is less than 19.
  • At pre-school, the child’s cognitive skills are extremely limited. They show little motor coordination and may require nursing care.
  • At school age, they may exhibit some motor coordination and has limited communication skills.
  • During their adulthood, they may have acquired very limited self-care skills and may usually require nursing care.

Could You Have Mental Retardation?

Mental Retardation Topics

Related Conditions

Asperger's Syndrome – restricted social interaction, repetitive behavior, non-verbal communication deficit, lacking empathy, clumsiness
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – neurobehavioral developmental disorder, inattention, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, chronic childhood disorder
Autism – impaired social interaction, communication deficit, brain developmental disorder
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder – developmental delay in language, motor skills and social function, autism, delayed motor skills
Learning Disorders – delayed development of functional skills, difficulty in organization of thoughts, academic skill deficits
Rett's Disorder – cognitive impairment, reduced socialization skills, lack of social interest
Selective Mutism – reluctant to speak even with speech ability, anxiety, autism, Asperger’s Syndrome