Mental Retardation in the Classroom

There are many causes of mental retardation (MR) and in many cases, the cause is actually unknown. Mental retardation is a significant sub-average general intellectual functioning which impacts adaptive behavior. Most mentally retarded children fall under the "mild" or "moderate" category, while approximately 15% fall under "severe". Students with mild, moderate, or severe mental retardation are classified by the Committee on Special Education (CSE) and have Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs). Although many of these students will receive an IEP diploma, higher functioning MR students can achieve a regular high school diploma.

Mild or Moderate Retardation:

To be classified with mild or moderate mental retardation, a student must have an IQ below 70 and demonstrate a delay in adaptive functioning. In regards to education, higher functioning mentally retarded students can be in the general education setting with support. They may need revised worksheets, directions repeated, or a peer to partner with. These students might need to attend a resource room for a portion of the day to receive extra academic help and possibly receive occupational therapy (OT) to work on adaptive skills. Mild MR students benefit from study skills or peer tutoring.

Moderately mentally retarded students might be in the general education setting for a portion of the day and in a self-contained setting for the remainder of the time. The students will work on the same academic concepts as their nondisabled peers, but at a slower pace or at a hands-on level. Rubrics work really well with this population because they provide a step-by-step expectation of what is to be achieved. Many of these students will benefit from OT and Adaptive Physical Education (APE) to work on adaptive and motor skills. They will most likely need speech services as well. During their self-contained class time, students will work on skills in: communication, daily living, vocational and self-help.

Severe Retardation:

To be classified with severe or profound retardation, a student's IQ must fall below 50 and he/she must indicate a delay in ability to be socially responsible and independent. Teachers of severely MR students use a functional curriculum. Most of these students are taught in a self-contained classroom for their academics, daily living and self-help skills, vocational training and leisure activities. Students may be included from time to time in the general education setting for art, music, special assemblies, etc.

It's good for districts to provide teacher resources. What works for one student may not work for another one. For many severely MR students, task analysis is very effective. With this method, a large skill is broken down into smaller skills or tasks. The child learns to master one task at a time until the large skill is achieved. These students also benefit from repetition, positive reinforcement and visual cues. Most severely MR students will need a combination of OT, APE, speech, counseling or physical therapy (PT).

Mildly, moderately and severely MR students are very capable of learning and will demonstrate unique strengths and deficits. To the extent that it's appropriate, these students need to spend a portion of their day in the general education setting with their nondisabled peers.

More Information On Mental Retardation

  1. President's Committee on Mental Retardation
  2. Special Olympics- The official site of the Special Olympics.
  3. The Arc