Mental Retardation

The American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR) defines Mental Retardation (MR) as being a “disability characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual function and in adaptive skills…”

When MR comes to mind, most of us automatically that it means that the patient has a low Intelligent Quotient (IQ) score. That is not necessarily the case. A low IQ is only one of the requirements in order to diagnose a patient as being MR. The second and third requirements are: significant limitations in adaptive behavior skills and evidence that the disability was present before the age of 18.

What is Intelligence? Intelligence refers to a person’s general mental capability. It involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.

What is Adaptive Behavior? Adaptive Behavior is a collection of skills that people have learned and apply so that they can function in their everyday lives. An MR patient has significant limitations in this area.

The Adaptive Behavior skills have been categorized into three areas: conceptual, social, and practical.

Some examples of conceptual skills are language, reading and writing, and directions.

Some examples of social skills are interpersonal relationships, responsibility, self-esteem, gullibility and naiveté, and the ability to follow rules and obey laws.

Practical skills are divided into two areas: personal and instrumental activities. Some examples of personal activities are eating, dressing, and personal hygiene. Some examples of instrumental activities are preparing meals, taking medication, using the telephone, managing money, and basic housekeeping.

The AAMR goes on to describe five basic assumptions regarding the definition of MR.

First, the limitations of the patients functions have to considered within the context of community environments typical of the patients age peers and culture.

Secondly, diversity in culture and communication, sensory, motor and behavioral factors have to be taken into consideration

Third, it is important to remember and recognize that the patient may exhibit limitations as well as strengths.

Fourth, it is important to develop a profile of needs and corresponding support systems for the patient. It is recommended that the needs of the MR patient be analyzed in at least nine key areas; for example, protection and advocacy, human development, teaching and education, home living, community living, employment, health and safety, behavior, and social.

Finally, it is important to note that the life functioning of the MR patient may improve with the appropriate support systems over a sustained period of time.

For more information, you can visit the American Association of Mental Retardation website at

2411 Robeson Street, Suite 200
Fayetteville, NC 28305

Phone: 910-609-1990
Fax: 910-609-1993
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