What Causes Mental Retardation in Children?

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  • Written By: Christina Edwards
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2019
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Mental retardation, sometimes known as an intellectual disability or simply MR, is a generalized disorder that typically presents itself before a person becomes an adult. Individuals with mental retardation often have impaired cognitive abilities and an intelligence quotient (IQ) under 70. Although with some children the cause of mental retardation is unknown, there are several known causes of this mental disability, which can occur before, during, or even after birth. Some causes of mental retardation in children include genetic disorders, environmental factors, trauma, and illness.

Many cases of mental retardation in children are caused by problems before a child is born. One of the most common causes of metal retardation in children, for instance, is genetics. Certain chromosomal disorders that can cause this disorder are often hereditary, or run in families.

Down syndrome is one example of such a disorder. This occurs when an infant is born with an extra chromosome. Another condition, known as fragile X syndrome, is another example. Individuals with this disorder have a mutated gene on the X chromosome. Both of these genetic disorders are often causes of mental retardation in children.

Certain environmental factors before birth may also be causes of mental retardation in children. Alcohol and other drugs are toxins shown to be extremely detrimental to the development of a fetus. Mothers who drink alcohol put their unborn children at risk for fetal alcohol syndrome, which is one of the leading causes of metal retardation in children.


Insufficient amounts of certain nutrients can also result in a child being born mentally retarded. Folic acid, for example, is necessary to the development of a fetal spinal cord and brain. If an expecting mother does not get enough folic acid during her pregnancy, there is a good chance that her child's brain will not develop properly, possibly causing mental retardation.

Mental retardation in children can also be caused during labor or delivery. Babies born prematurely may have brains that have not had time to properly develop. Mental retardation, in some cases, can also be caused by an extremely hard labor or a traumatic head injury during the birth.

Head trauma in an infant or small child can also lead to mental retardation, as can a near drowning incident. Both of these situations can lead to permanent damage of the brain. Certain illnesses, like tuberculosis and meningitis, have also been known to cause mental retardation in children.


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Post 2

When you have a child with mental retardation, I don't know that the causes are necessarily that important, unless they can be addressed and rectified. But, for a child who is born with developmental delays, those delays will probably be with them for a lifetime.

That's not to say that many persons with a developmental disability will never lead productive lives -- on the contrary. There are so many more resources available to parents now to help their children reach their greatest potential. But it takes a lot of work on the parents' part. The teachers and school can do it alone. Also, early intervention can make a world of difference. The earlier the intervention begins, the better the child usually responds.

Post 1

There's also something called social/cultural retardation, where a child tests as mentally retarded, but is probably not. However, they grew up in a situation that provided nothing in the way of enrichment or preparation for learning. The child's main exposure to the world is exclusively through network television. Even public television gets short shrift. So, without the crucial exposure to books, parental guidance and encouragement, a child enters school completely unprepared to learn, and frequently ends up in special education.

My dad taught special education. I saw this play out over and over.

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