Understanding Mental Retardation

Understanding Mental Retardation

Understanding Mental Retardation

Understanding Mental Retardation


What measures can parents and advocates take to insure that people who have mental retardation live full, rewarding lives from infancy to old age?

Understanding Mental Retardation explores a diverse group of disorders from their biological roots to the everyday challenges faced by this special population and their families. With parents and those who care for people who have mental retardation in mind, Patricia Ainsworth and Pamela C. Baker write in a style that is at once accessible, informative, and sympathetic to the concerns of those affected.

The authors provide practical information that will assist families and other advocates in obtaining needed services. They discuss assessment and treatment, education and employment, social and sexual adjustment, as well as regulatory and legal issues.

This book covers the causes of mental retardation, the signs and symptoms of the most common forms of these disorders, and issues of prevention. For the sake of comparison, the book describes basic concepts of normal human development and references the history of Western civilization's responses to those with mental retardation.

Understanding Mental Retardation sheds new light on mental illnesses that can complicate the lives of those with mental retardation, and the way symptoms of mental illness may appear confused or masked in a patient with mental retardation. Along with information on treatments and diagnoses, the book offers contact information for governmental resources, as well as a brief summary of the legal issues pertaining to mental retardation in America.

Patricia Ainsworth is an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and has a private practice in Ridgeland, Mississippi. She is the author of Understanding Depression (University Press of Mississippi).

Pamela C. Baker is director of the South Mississippi Regional Center in Long Beach, Mississippi. She is also an independent consultant in management and disabilities administration and co-editor of Embarking on a New Century: Mental Retardation at the End of the 20th Century.


The true mark of a civilized society may be the manner in which it deals with members who are unlike others. Defining or categorizing people is our mechanism for understanding and coping with variance. In doing so, we often lose sight of our greater similarities. This generalization is especially true of the group of individuals currently described as “mentally retarded.”

The term mental retardation is familiar to most Americans, but the term and its variants (mentally retarded, retardation, retarded, mentally deficient, etc.) are not universally accepted; many believe that it stigmatizes and promotes a negative image. While mental retardation is the term commonly used in the United States, this set of conditions is referred to as “intellectual disability” in the British Commonwealth and by the International Society for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disabilities. In their report “Use of the Term 'Mental Retardation': Language, Image and Public Education” (June 14, 2002), Stephen R. Schroeder of the University of Kansas and his colleagues note that many parents and other advocates in the U.S. prefer the term “learning disability, ” believing that it is less stigmatizing. The report points to the California experience, where the term mental retardation was discouraged in the school system while the term learning disability was advocated. This led to a 200% increase in the identification of children with learning disabilities and a decrease in the diagnosis of mental retardation. In some California school systems the term mental retardation is banned altogether.

The Schroeder report also points out that many advocates and professionals prefer the use of more precise descriptors such as Down syndrome or fragile X syndrome to the generic term . . .

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