What Is Profound Mental Retardation?

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  • Written By: Amanda Barnhart
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 08 July 2019
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Profound mental retardation is the most serious and rare form of retardation. Only about one to two percent of mentally retarded individuals are classified as having profound mental retardation, which means the patient has an IQ score below 20 to 25. People who are profoundly retarded often cannot manage basic daily tasks on their own and may never learn to communicate effectively. These individuals usually live in highly supervised settings to help them with their daily needs and ensure they remain safe.

Patients who are diagnosed with profound retardation often have an underlying neurological disorder that is at least partially responsible for their mental conditions. Some conditions that cause mental retardation are inherited, such as fragile X syndrome and Down syndrome. Other underlying causes include prenatal illnesses. Some illnesses and problems during pregnancy can predispose a child to mental retardation, such as fetal alcohol syndrome or complications from a mother diagnosed with rubella, toxoplasmosis, high blood pressure, or glandular problems during her pregnancy.


Children with profound mental retardation often begin showing signs at birth or shortly thereafter, even though the actual level of retardation may not be properly diagnosed until the child is school age. Mentally retarded children often have trouble developing basic skills that come easier for other children, such as walking and talking. Profoundly retarded children are usually placed in special classrooms with teachers trained in helping mentally retarded children. Children who are profoundly mentally retarded can learn some basic skills, and their education often focuses on teaching them how to respond to situations that could endanger them.

People diagnosed with profound mental retardation are not able to work or care for themselves. They often have movement difficulties and must use assistive devices, such as wheelchairs or walkers, to get around. These individuals can rarely communicate effectively through speech and may rely on basic sounds and gestures to communicate their needs and wants. Caregivers in group homes and other facilities often devise their own system of communicating with profoundly retarded patients.

Most people with profound mental retardation do not handle changes in routine well, which is why it is often better for them to live in group homes where their daily lives are heavily scheduled and monitored. Some people with this level of retardation require assistance with almost every daily task, including showering and taking care of basic hygiene, eating, and getting dressed. Family members who wish to keep profoundly retarded loved ones at home often require the help of a home nurse or other specialists.


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Post 4

Different levels of retardation they all say, right?

Dare we violate the concept of self esteem and political correctness by going up to a mentally retarded person and telling him to his face that he's stupid like he really is?

Different levels of uncontrollable stupidity? Mild is smaller amounts and severe is bigger amounts.

Whether a person chooses to be stupid or is born with retardation, it's the same thing - individuals not learning. Sounds like they're synonyms to me.

Let's stop being politically correct about this crap, and accept the fact that cool, politically incorrect people like myself are not 100 percent, but 200 percent right about this.

Post 3

@pleonasm - You're assuming that the family in question has the ability to rearrange themselves for this, or has the money to provide any kind of care at all.

I have heard of so many people, often women, who live desperate lives because they are the sole carer for someone with severe, profound mental retardation. There isn't always options to make sure everyone is happy and stress free, and care is expensive, whether it's a group house or someone visiting the home.

When there's no one else around to help, it really does become a more than full time job. Which basically means that the person with the responsibility never gets to live their own life, because if they aren't there, no one is.

It's a terrible thing and something that we should not allow to happen in the modern world.

Post 2

@irontoenail - I really think it depends on the family. I've seen it work well both ways. If you can establish a routine that works for everyone, there's no reason the whole family can't stay together.

It's a matter of getting routines down and making sure that everyone has the support they need. What I think happens in the cases where keeping the mentally challenged person home fails, is that the responsibility for their well being is divided up poorly among those who are caring for them. This is a long term situation and everyone has to be happy to play their part or it's simply not going to be sustainable.

Post 1

This is such a difficult thing for a family, particularly if they choose to keep the individual at home with them. It's essentially like having a full time job, with very few benefits and a lot of overtime.

I would almost always be inclined to recommend that people be placed in a group home, rather than kept with a family, just because it's better for everyone that way.

Which is not to say that it can't work at home, particularly if there are carers who specialize in intellectual disability involved.

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