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What Is Physical Retardation?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2016
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Physical retardation is a delay or regression in physical development and psycho motor skills. This term is not widely used in clinical settings, although examples can be found in outdated texts. People may develop physical retardation as a result of genetic conditions, injuries at birth, or malnutrition. Complications from psychiatric conditions or medications can be a cause as well, along with neurological conditions, in which case the condition may onset later in life. Treatment options can include physical and occupational therapy.

Congenital cases of physical retardation may result in slowed physical development. Children fail to meet developmental milestones like crawling and standing, and could experience delays in the development of motor skills. Their cognitive functioning may be normal, or it could be impaired as well. Children with Down syndrome, for example, experience cognitive deficits as well as delays in physical growth. Some texts may also include congenital abnormalities like partial paralysis or heart defects as a form of physical retardation.

When symptoms onset later in life, they may be referred to as psycho motor retardation. Some patients with severe mental illness experience problems like a flattened affect, where their activity levels decline. Their cognitive processing skills slow down, as do their physical reaction times. For example, someone might need a question repeated, or would be slow to respond to a request to stand and walk across the room. Treating the underlying mental health condition may resolve the symptoms.

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Patients with neurological diseases can also experience symptoms of physical retardation, where their movements become slowed because of the damage to the nervous system. These patients may move and react slowly. They can also develop muscle weakness and lack of muscle control. Physical therapy may help them retain strength to perform basic tasks. They could also benefit from mobility aids and other tools, like jar openers to assist them with opening containers they have trouble handling on their own.

While “retardation” was once a common diagnostic term to refer to conditions characterized by slowed or delayed development, or a slowdown in physical and cognitive function, this term is less common. This is partially the result of more accurate diagnostic terminology to describe conditions. It is also the result of concerns about the stigma associated with “retardation” and the desire to use a more neutral word to discuss physical and developmental disabilities. Thus, terms like “developmental disability” or “cognitive decline” might be used as alternatives.

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mrwormy
Post 2

I still use the word "retardation" sometimes when I'm describing someone's actual mental or physical condition. It's just the word I'm used to saying, and I don't mean anything insulting by it. I agree that the word "retard" to describe a handicapped person is offensive, but "mentally retarded" is a different situation, at least in my opinion. Nevertheless, I try very hard not to use it in public.

Cageybird
Post 1

I remember when I was very young, we would use the word "retard" as a playground insult. I knew that it actually referred to people who had what doctors called mental or physical retardation at the time. I didn't see "mental retardation" as being anything other than an accurate description. "Retard", on the other hand, was a deliberate slur.

When my cousins were diagnosed with cerebral palsy, my mother taught me to say they were mentally or physically challenged, not retarded. This was probably in the late 1970s, when the language used to describe people with disabilities changed a lot.

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