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What Is Mental Retardation?

Mental retardation is a term used when a person has certain limitations in mental functioning and in skills such as communicating, taking care of him or herself, and social skills. These limitations will cause a child to learn and develop more slowly than a typical child. Children with mental retardation may take longer to learn to speak, walk, and take care of their personal needs such as dressing or eating. They are likely to have trouble learning in school. They will learn, but it will take them longer. There may be some things they cannot learn.

Definition Of Mental Retardation

The USA's special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), defines mental retardation as . . .

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". . . significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child's educational performance." [34 Code of Federal Regulations §300.7(c)(6)]

How Common Is Mental Retardation?

As many as 3 out of every 100 people in the country have mental retardation (The Arc, 2001). Nearly 613,000 children ages 6 to 21 have some level of mental retardation and need special education in school (Twenty-fourth Annual Report to Congress, U.S. Department of Education, 2002). In fact, 1 out of every 10 children who need special education has some form of mental retardation.


Sourced from: Mental Retardation Fact Sheet (FS8)
National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities
Revision: January 2004

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