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Introduction to Mental Retardation Essay

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Table of Contents
What is Mental Retardation
Causes of Mental Retardation
Diagnosis and Identification
How the Law treats Mentally Retarded Convicts

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Mental retardation is a congenital defect that illness that is irreversible, and patients display slower learning, poor motor skills when compared to normal children of the same age and generally show a lower intellectual level. This paper examines important issues related to mental retardation.

What is Mental Retardation

Nichols (Nichols et al. l 2003) have argued that the term ‘mentally retarded’ has acquired a shameful and often a derogatory synonym by teachers, parents, and the general public, and a mentally retarded person is regarded with scorn, discriminated and often denied basic dignities in life. In the US, this term is called development delay and gives the impression that the afflicted person has a temporary dysfunction, and with the passage of time, the abnormal behavior may go away. Other terms that are used include development disability and intellectual disability. While development disability refers to delay in growth or onset of puberty, it is used to refer to psychiatric or physical delay. The term intellectual disability is used to denote people who display a far lesser intellectual quotient. The psychologist Henry Goddard had stated that the mentally retarded person was an adult with the intellectual ability of a 5-year-old child.

The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities defines mental retardation as “significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance (www.aaidd.org). Mental retardation is used to denote a person who has limitations in functioning mentally and has problems in basic skills such as communication, maintaining personal hygiene, lacks social skills. The child will consequently develop more slowly than other children of the same age. As a baby and during the growing up years, the child will take a longer time to crawl, walk, talk and give more trouble while eating. As the child grows up, the child has problems in school in keeping up with the studies and play in sports.

Causes of Mental Retardation

Mental retardation is not the same as autism, Asperger syndrome, or Downs syndrome and is not the same as mental illness or psychiatric cases. VanderSchie (VanderSchie 2003) suggests that the reason for mental retardation could be due to:

Pregnancy problems: Mental retardation can occur when the fetus inside the womb does not develop properly. If the expecting mother is a drug addict, is an alcoholic, or gets infections such as rubella, then the baby can be born with mental retardation. In some cases, during childbirth, if the baby does not get enough oxygen, then this problem can arise. Forceps delivery of babies that have a ‘breach delivery’ can damage the skull and can cause mental retardation.

Inherited defective genes: Families that have married close relations for a few generations show inbreeding that is a type of mental retardation. In some cases, abnormal gene mutation, defective cell division, inherited genetic conditions can cause such problems.

Poisoning and infections in early ages: small children who are inflicted with diseases such as meningitis, whooping cough, poisoning due to mercury and lean, and if the child is not given good care, then mental retardation can occur.

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Iodine deficiency: Pregnant women who have iodine deficiency or children with iodine deficiency can give birth to mentally retarded children. This disease is present in certain developing countries.

Isolation and imprisonment: Some cases of children, who have been imprisoned in dark, cramped places for a long time, have shown mental retardation.

Diagnosis and Identification

Lustig (Lustig 1999) has suggested a few measures that could help in the early identification and diagnosis of mental retardation. He has also suggested a range of IQ values that denote the amount of retardation in the child. The author suggests that early diagnosis is very important since it gives enough time for the child to be treated and provides the means to find a job and lead an independent life. The author had also argued that the many cases of mentally retarded patients who turn to violence, unsocial activity, and even murder are actually cases where the ailment was not diagnosed early in life, and the child was being lazy, not hard-working, and so on when actually the child was a slow learner. The author has pointed out that throughout the ages, terms such as imbecile, cretin, idiot, moron, and others have been used.

CDC – Center for Disease Control and Prevention has listed the symptoms for early detection of mental retardation (CDC, 2006).

If the child has trouble or starts very late in movements such as sitting up, crawling, walking later than normal, children
If the child begins to learn how to talk very late or has excessive trouble in learning a few words and repeating them
If the child finds it difficult to remember simple things
If the child does not show an understanding of social rules
If the child has trouble seeing what happens when they do something
In preschool, if the child has difficulties in learning and has trouble in solving problems such as recognizing shapes and colors.
How the Law treats Mentally Retarded Convicts

Pelka (Pelka 1977) has collected evidence of more than 100 cases where mentally retarded patients have been convicted for felony and murder. He has argued that the police have, in many cases have first wrongly arrested the mentally retarded patient, forced them to waive their right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present, and forced the person to sign a confession using coercion and this confession has been accepted by the jury. The author has pointed out that public prosecutors and ambitious police officers who want a successful conviction in their records often force the victim in trials to make damming admissions by offering suggestions and asking them to admit to a crime. The author suggests that the traumatized patient, who is desperate to make people happy, admits to crimes and is convicted. The author has pointed out that the judicial officers do not have an understanding of mental retardation and associate this illness with patients suffering from Downs syndrome. Many patients almost look and speak like normal beings, and this leads to their conviction.

CDC (2006), ‘ Mental Retardation Fact Sheet’.
Lustig Daniel C. (1999), ‘Family Care giving of Adults with Mental Retardation: Key Issues for Rehabilitation Counselors’, The Journal of Rehabilitation, Volume 65. Issue: 2. pp: 26-42
Nichols Mark, Bench Lawrence L., Morlok Erica, Liston Karen (2003), ‘Analysis of Mentally Retarded and Lower-Functioning Offender Correctional Programs’, Magazine: Corrections Today, Volume: 65. Issue: 2, pp: 119-124
Pelka Fred (1977), ‘Unequal Justice: Preserving the Rights of the Mentally Retarded in the Criminal Justice System’, Magazine: The Humanist, Volume: 57. Issue: 6. pp: 28-36
VanderSchie-Bezyak Jill L. (2003), ‘Service Problems and Solutions for Individuals with Mental Retardation and Metal Illness’, The Journal of Rehabilitation, Volume: 69, Issue 1, pp: 53-62

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