What Are Common Characteristics of Students with Mental Retardation?

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  • Written By: Patti Kate
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2019
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Students with mental retardation may display various characteristics, depending to the degree of the disorder. Students who are mildly retarded may be academically delayed, while those with severe retardation may have profound learning disabilities. Other characteristics of students with mental retardation include social and intellectual delay. Developmental delays, such as delays in learning how to dress or bathe, are typical of young students with mental retardation. Some adults and students with mental retardation may have facial features that set them apart, such as slanted eyes and small ears.

Mental retardation is typically defined by a student's intelligence quotient (IQ). Students with mental retardation may have an IQ ranging from 25-69. A student with an IQ falls of less than 39 would be classified as having severe mental retardation. Students with mild to moderate mental retardation generally are in the 50-70 IQ range.

It is common for students with a mild form of mental retardation to have difficulty keeping up with their classmates. They may be late in learning the alphabet and learning to read. Additionally, they may not be able to comprehend basic mathematics, such as addition and subtraction. These characteristics often result in failing grades early on.


After an assessment by an educator, the student may be placed in a special education class. Some students with mild mental retardation may remain in a regular classroom, although tutoring may be needed. After-school activity programs for students with cognitive issues may also be recommended.

Common characteristics of students with mental retardation also include lack of social skills and distinguishable physical features. The appearance of students with retardation may differ from that of students without disabilities. Some students may appear to look disheveled or show poor grooming habits. In cases of moderate to severe retardation, some students may display an awkward or clumsy gait.

When participating in physical activities, some mentally retarded students may appear uncoordinated. Unlike agile students without disabilities, those with mental retardation may have difficulty participating in physical games and organized sports. Therefore, maintaining an optimal level of fitness is often difficult for many students with mental retardation.

Students with central nervous system damage will often show outward signs of severe mental retardation. Physical disabilities may also exist, such as partial paralysis or spinal misalignment. By the time the child reaches preschool age, he may show motor skill delays and cognitive disabilities, such as poor memory recall. Behavioral issues may be another characteristic of profound mental retardation.


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