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MENTAL RETARDATION In the Texas mental retardation system, mental retardation is defined as a permanent condition originating sometime between birth and age 18. The person’s general intellectual functioning is significantly below average and his or her behavior does not meet the level of personal independence and social responsibility expected of the person’s age and culture. Mental retardation is found among all races and cultures. An estimated three percent of the population has mental retardation. Mental Retardation: Not the Same as Mental Illness Mental retardation and mental illness are not the same condition, although they can occur in the same person. Unlike mental illness, mental retardation is always associated with limited intellectual capacity, it occurs before age 18, and it is a permanent condition. In contrast, mental illness is not associated with a particular level of intelligence, it may occur in a person at any age, and it is often temporary and treatable. Like all other persons, individuals with mental retardation can become mentally ill and they can be treated for their mental illness. Life for People with Mental Retardation People with mental retardation experience emotions common to all human beings: joy, sadness, anger, boredom, and interest. They can learn, adjust socially, and benefit from appropriate education, training, personal care, and opportunities to work. The range of possible mental retardation, based on both intellectual and social criteria, is commonly divided into four levels: mild, moderate, severe, and profound. The level of mental retardation is the main factor that determines the degree of outside assistance the person with mental retardation needs to live a comfortable, productive life. Persons with mild mental retardation often can merge into competitive labor and daily community life with minimal assistance, while persons with moderate mental retardation may need more training and support in order to live successfully in the community. Individuals who have a severe or profound level of mental retardation frequently have disabilities in addition to mental retardation. They need more assistance than persons with mild or moderate mental retardation; persons with profound mental retardation need a great deal of basic physical care or supervision to live. The majority of persons with mental retardation have a mild or moderate level of retardation. They can live and work independently or semi-independently in the community. Those with severe or profound levels of mental retardation can learn to care for themselves and function successfully in the community with varying levels of supervision. Causes of Mental Retardation Mental retardation is caused by conditions that hinder development before birth, during birth, or during the period from birth to age 18. More than 200 causes have been identified. However, because much is still unknown about mental retardation, the identified causes account for only about a fourth of all cases of mental retardation. Frequently recognized causes include: Certain illnesses experienced by the mother during pregnancy Chromosome abnormality Metabolic disorders Destruction of brain tissue or interference with brain development Environmental factors Maternal substance abuse Maternal illnesses that can cause mental retardation before birth include rubella (German measles), syphilis, meningitis, and toxoplasmosis. The most common and best know chromosome abnormality is Down syndrome, which occurs in about one of every 1,000 births and generally results in moderate to severe mental retardation. Many metabolic disorders, some of them due to heredity such as phenylketonuria (PKU), produce mental retardation and often produce severe physical disabilities as well. These disorders frequently involve the body’s inability to properly use nutrients. Examples of causes of destruction of brain tissue or interference with brain development are hydrocephalus (accumulation of brain fluid), craniosynotosis (premature closure of the spaces between bones in the skull), respiratory difficulties at birth, inflammation of the brain due to disease or toxic substances, and physical trauma. For many people, development is slowed by poor diet, inadequate prenatal and childhood care, bad health habits and sanitation, and the lack of opportunities to learn. Several factors may be at work in the same individual. For example, a premature infant is particularly vulnerable to brain damage, and premature delivery is more common among mothers who receive inadequate prenatal care. Inadequate prenatal care in turn is more common among people who are underprivileged. Individuals in these groups have a greater chance of encountering accidents, disease, and malnutrition and less opportunity for sensory and social stimulation. Preventing Mental Retardation Some forms of mental retardation are preventable, such as those caused by substance abuse resulting in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and related conditions. In other cases, prompt and appropriate treatment can reduce the extent of developmental delay. Much progress is being made by medical intervention: Vaccines to prevent certain diseases Diet and drug therapy Surgical techniques and so forth. Progress also is being made through the Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program, which brings intellectual, physical, and social stimulation to infants and children who have, or are in danger of having developmental delay. The ECI program is managed by the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services. Mental Retardation Services DADS oversees a wide variety of services designed to help citizens with mental retardation achieve their maximum potential. The goal of all mental retardation services is to provide persons with mental retardation the optimal services for their preferences and abilities. Increasingly, persons with mental retardation can receive training to live productively in their local community.
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