A child with mental retardation can do well in school but is likely to need individualized help. Fortunately, states are responsible for meeting the educational needs of children with disabilities.
For children up to age three, services are provided through an early intervention system. Staff work with the child's family to develop what is known as an Individualized Family Services Plan, or IFSP. The IFSP will describe the child's unique needs. It also describes the services the child will receive to address those needs. The IFSP will emphasize the unique needs of the family, so that parents and other family members will know how to help their young child with mental retardation. Early intervention services may be provided on a sliding-fee basis, meaning that the costs to the family will depend upon their income. In some states, early intervention services may be at no cost to parents.
For eligible school-aged children (including preschoolers), special education and related services are made available through the school system. School staff will work with the child's parents to develop an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. The IEP is similar to an IFSP. It describes the child's unique needs and the services that have been designed to meet those needs. Special education and related services are provided at no cost to parents.
Many children with mental retardation need help with adaptive skills, which are skills needed to live, work, and play in the community. Teachers and parents can help a child work on these skills at both school and home. Some of these skills include:
- communicating with others;
- taking care of personal needs (dressing, bathing, going to the bathroom);
- health and safety;
- home living (helping to set the table, cleaning the house, or cooking dinner);
- social skills (manners, knowing the rules of conversation, getting along in a group, playing a game);
- reading, writing, and basic math; and
- as they get older, skills that will help them in the workplace.
Supports or changes in the classroom (called adaptations) help most students with mental retardation. Some common changes that help students with mental retardation are listed below under "Tips for Teachers." The resources below also include ways to help children with mental retardation.
- Learn about mental retardation. The more you know, the more you can help yourself and your child. See the list of resources and organizations at the end of this publication.
- Encourage independence in your child. For example, help your child learn daily care skills, such as dressing, feeding him or herself, using the bathroom, and grooming.
- Give your child chores. Keep her age, attention span, and abilities in mind. Break down jobs into smaller steps. For example, if your child's job is to set the table, first ask her to get the right number of napkins. Then have her put one at each family member's place at the table. Do the same with the utensils, going one at a time. Tell her what to do, step by step, until the job is done. Demonstrate how to do the job. Help her when she needs assistance. Give your child frequent feedback. Praise your child when he or she does well. Build your child's abilities.
- Find out what skills your child is learning at school. Find ways for your child to apply those skills at home. For example, if the teacher is going over a lesson about money, take your child to the supermarket with you. Help him count out the money to pay for your groceries. Help him count the change.
- Find opportunities in your community for social activities, such as scouts, recreation center activities, sports, and so on. These will help your child build social skills as well as to have fun.
- Talk to other parents whose children have mental retardation. Parents can share practical advice and emotional support. Call NICHCY (1.800.695.0285) and ask how to find a parent group near you.
- Meet with the school and develop an educational plan to address your child's needs. Keep in touch with your child's teachers. Offer support. Find out how you can support your child's school learning at home.
- Learn as much as you can about mental retardation. The organizations listed at the end of this publication will help you identify specific techniques and strategies to support the student educationally. We've also listed some strategies below.
- Recognize that you can make an enormous difference in this student's life! Find out what the student's strengths and interests are, and emphasize them. Create opportunities for success.
- Work together with the student's parents and other school personnel to create and implement an educational plan tailored to meet the student's needs. Regularly share information about how the student is doing at school and at home.
- If you are not part of the student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) team, ask for a copy of his or her IEP. The student's educational goals will be listed there, as well as the services and classroom accommodations he or she is to receive. Talk to specialists in your school (e.g., special educators), as necessary. They can help you identify effective methods of teaching this student, ways to adapt the curriculum, and how to address the student's IEP goals in your classroom.
- Be as concrete as possible. Demonstrate what you mean rather than just giving verbal directions. Rather than just relating new information verbally, show a picture. And rather than just showing a picture, provide the student with hands-on materials and experiences and the opportunity to try things out.
- Break new tasks into small steps. Demonstrate the steps. Have the student do the steps, one at a time. Provide assistance, as necessary.
- Give the student immediate feedback.
- Teach the student life skills such as daily living, social skills, and occupational awareness and exploration, as appropriate. Involve the student in group activities or clubs.
Sourced from: Mental Retardation Fact Sheet (FS8)
National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities
Revision: January 2004