Characteristics of Children with Mental Retardation (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Adaptive Behavior

By definition children with mental retardation have substantial deficits in adaptive behavior. These limitations can take many forms and tend to occur across domains of functioning. Limitations in self-care skills and social relationships as well as behavioral excesses are common characteristics of individuals with mental retardation.

Self-Care and Daily Living Skills.  Individuals with mental retardation who require extensive supports must often be taught basic self-care skills such as dressing, eating, and hygiene. Direct instruction and environmental supports such as added prompts and simplified routines are necessary to ensure that deficits in these adaptive areas do not come to seriously limit one’s quality of life. Most children with milder forms of mental retardation learn how to take care of their basic needs, but they often require training in self-management skills to achieve the levels of performance necessary for eventual independent living.

Social Development.  Making and sustaining friendships and personal relationships present significant challenges for many persons with mental retardation. Limited cognitive processing skills, poor language development, and unusual or inappropriate behaviors can seriously impede interacting with others. It is difficult at best for someone who is not a professional educator or staff person to want to spend the time necessary to get to know a person who stands too close, interrupts frequently, does not maintain eye contact, and strays from the conversational topic. Teaching students with mental retardation appropriate social and interpersonal skills is one of the most important functions of special education.

Behavioral Excesses and Challenging Behavior.  Students with mental retardation are more likely to exhibit behavior problems than are children without disabilities. Difficulties accepting criticism, limited self-control, and bizarre and inappropriate behaviors such as aggression or self-injury are often observed in children with mental retardation. Some of the genetic syndromes associated with mental retardation tend to include abnormal behavior (e.g., children with Prader-Willi syndrome often engage in self-injurious or obsessive-compulsive behavior). In general, the more severe the retardation, the higher the incidence of behavior problems. Individuals with mental retardation and psychiatric conditions requiring mental health supports are known as “dual diagnosis” cases. Data from one report showed that approximately 10% of all persons with mental retardation served by the state of California were dually diagnosed (Borthwick-Duffy & Eyman, 1990). Although there are comprehensive guidelines available for treating psychiatric and behavioral problems of persons with mental retardation (Rush & Francis, 2000), much more research is needed on how best to support this population.

Positive Attributes

Descriptions of the intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior of individuals with mental retardation focus on limitations and deficits and paint a picture of a monolithic group of people whose most important characteristics revolve around the absence of desirable traits. But individuals with mental retardation are a huge and disparate group composed of people with highly individual personalities (Smith & Mitchell, 2001b). Many children and adults with mental retardation display tenacity and curiosity in learning, get along well with others, and are positive influences on those around them (Reiss & Reiss, 2004; Smith, 2000).

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