Frequently asked Questions about Mental Retardation

What is wrong with my child? Why is she not developing like other children?


The brain controls the functioning of the entire body. If the brain is damaged it may be manifested as developmental delay, mental retardation, poor learning and performance. Your child’s problem may be any of the above. Hence the child is different in development and learning.


How early can one identify and tell that the child is mentally retarded?


Early detection depends upon the severity and the nature of mental retardation. Many genetic abnormalities can be identified before birth and immediately after birth. Some of the ways to identify are through amniocentesis, sonography, fetoscopy, blood and urine screening tests and imaging techniques.


Some conditions like Down’s syndrome, microcephaly (small head), hydrocephalous and other obvious congenital anomalies can be identified at birth with presenting features.


After birth if the growth and developmental milestones are delayed and there is presence of neurological signs and symptoms, identification of developmental delay can be suspected within one year of age.


Are there any drugs that can cure mental retardation?


There is no cure for mental retardation through the use of drugs. Mental retardation is a condition where the damage caused to the brain is permanent. No drugs have been found to repair the damage caused to the brain. However, prevention is possible in some cases. Mental retardation caused due to thyroid deficiency, primary and secondary, can be prevented by medical treatment if identified very early and treated. In the case of hydrocephalus, surgical intervention can reduce the pressure in the brain by using a shunt. Treatment is available for associated condition like fits.


How early can parents seek early intervention when their baby is found to be developmentally delayed?


As soon as it is recognized that the young child is developmentally delay, prompt treatment and intervention will help the child to reach his/her optimal level of development. The first 24 months of a normal child’s life have tremendous and rapid growth and development.


Will my child become all right?


Mental retardation is not a disease. It is a condition caused by damage to the brain and cannot be cured by medicines. However, a child with mental retardation can be helped to learn skills and progress in many ways through training, depending on the severity of retardation.


Will my child walk and talk like other children?


Children with mental retardation do learn to walk, understand and speak to a large extent. However, how far and how quickly they learn depends on the extent of the brain damage, early identification and timely intervention.


Why does my child get fits?


Fits are manifestations of abnormal brain functioning due to structural or biochemical changes. The common causes are:


  • Lack of oxygen/glucose supply
  • Bleeding/ Increased pressure in the brain
  • Abnormal growths or tumours
  • Accumulation of abnormal substances
  • Poisons/toxins/Infections
  • Head injuries
  • High fever/Dehydration


Do we have to continue medicine for fits throughout the child’s life?


Fits may be of different nature. Some are temporary like fits with high fever and dehydration, which may disappear with treatment of the condition. Fits due to immaturity of the brain may gradually stop as the brain matures. If the damage is permanent then the duration of treatment depends on severity. However, continuous medication and regular follow ups are necessary. If a child does not get a single fit for three years with treatment then the medication can be slowly tapered and stopped as per the advice of the doctors. If fits recur during tapering of medication or after stopping medicines then the treatment may have to be restarted. In severe cases and recurrent fits the child may need medication throughout his/her life.


Will he/she be able to read and write like other children?


Majority of children with mental retardation will be able to learn basic reading, writing and arithmetic, which are essential for daily living. Some of them will be able to achieve 4th to 5th class academic levels at least. Some persons with mental retardation are now completing high school through open learning systems and integrated education.


Can we send our child to a regular school for education?


There are some regular schools that offer special training/education to children with mental retardation. If that facility is available, then the child can be sent to the regular school. Otherwise, the child has to be sent to a special school for education. Special teachers are trained to teach children with mental retardation. They use special methods, techniques and material to teach children basic skills that are essential for independent living. More and more regular schools are admitting students with mental retardation.


Will he/she be able to earn his livelihood?


With systematic and timely intervention, many persons with mental retardation will be able to perform skilled, semi-skilled and repetitive jobs and will be able to partially or completely support themselves financially.


What is his life span?


Mental retardation by itself does not reduce a normal life span. A lot depends on the cause, severity of mental retardation, associated medical problems and the level of care given. Due to the advancements in medical care, the life span of persons with mental retardation has shown an increase in recent years.


Is my child mad?


No, your child is definitely not mad. The child is slow in development and in learning.


Is mental retardation hereditary?


Mental retardation is not always hereditary. However, where the cause of mental retardation is genetic, it is hereditary. In such cases, parents are advised to go for genetic counseling before they plan for another child.


Will I have another child like this?


Depending on the cause, there may be the possibility of another child being affected. Therefore, parents are advised to go for genetic counseling prior to planning for another child.


Can marriage be a cure for mental retardation?


Marriage is not a cure for mental retardation. If the person with mental retardation cannot understand the system of marriage and assume the needed role and responsibility, marriage can prove to be unsuccessful.



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