Questions & Answers

My 3-year-old son is having difficulty talking. He knows a few words but he can't put them together to tell me what he wants. And sometimes he doesn't seem to understand what I'm saying. Does that mean he's mentally retarded?

Delayed language development is not necessarily a sign of mental retardation, but it's important to differentiate between the two in order to provide the most appropriate services. It would be wise to talk with his pediatrician about getting an evaluation of his development.

What if a 2-year-old is diagnosed as mentally retarded? How do parents know what to do? Is there any help available from the state or national government?

From birth to age 3, children with mental retardation and their families can receive early intervention services. Each state has a specific state department, usually an education, public health or mental health agency, which provides these services. Although the services vary from state to state they usually involve home visits by the appropriate professionals who work with the child and the parents to provide the necessary therapeutic interventions. Interventions and training may also occur in day care or other community settings.

What would be the best treatment for a 6-year-old just diagnosed as having mental retardation? She's having difficulty keeping up with kids on the playground and then she gets angry and teases the other children.

A treatment plan should be comprehensive and, to determine the degree of impairment, it may be appropriate to involve several professionals. Some of the services which may benefit the child are: speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, special education services, environmental changes, skills development, behavioral intervention, social skills training and medications. Parent support groups may also be helpful.

What happens as a child with mental retardation gets older? How do parents find the right schools and how can they make sure their child is educated and becomes a productive adult?

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990, reauthorized in 1997, mandates that all children, including those with disabilities, are entitled to an education that is both "free" and "appropriate." Children with disabilities are entitled to receive publicly funded education from the age of 3 until age 22. By law, parents have many rights regarding the assessment of children and the type of school placement recommended for their child, and schools are required to provide parents with information about their rights. One right is that the child be educated in the "least restrictive environment." Students with mental retardation attend a variety of different educational placements. Many attend only general education classes, possibly with an aide for part or all of the school day. Others attend a mix of general and special education classes; a smaller number attend only special education classes or special schools. During adolescence schools are required to initiate transition planning with the student and parents to make sure plans are made about the student's transition from the school system into vocational or further educational endeavors. Schools are also required to offer students with disabilities a vocational assessment during the high school years.