Definition of Mental Retardation-Theoretical Perspectives

Mental retardation is a phenomena that has existed since the beginning of time.

There have always been persons with marked intellectual limitations who have had a hard time meeting the demands of their social environment.

What has changed is our understanding of the nature of the construct to explain limited intellectual functioning and its consequence--social incompetence.

The terms we have used to label the construct have varied over the centuries

What is a construct?

Since MR is not a unitary phenomenon, the many definitions which have been formulated over the centuries embody concepts that give this multifaceted construct clarity and meaning.

The definitions reflect out present understanding or meaning of the concept .

As our understanding changes the definition changes.

Since 1921 there have been eight revisions of the AAMD definition.

Definition also varies with the theoretical statements about the underlying nature of the condition.

Theoretical perspectives of mental retardation: clinical, social system, developmental.

Clinical Perspective

Biological Concepts

Psychological Concepts

AAMD Definition of Mental Retardation

Mental retardation refers to significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period (Grossman, 1983)

Operationalization of terms:



1) Social Norms

2) Labeling Process

Children achieve the mentally retarded status as they enter school(failure to meet academic standards, referral, attainment of low IQ score, classification as MR)

Disproportionate number labeled EMR come from various minority groups

Mercer attributes these findings not to genetic intellectual inferiority but to Anglocentric school and intelligence testing procedures that embody the values of the core culture

Cultural bias of tests-----

Diagnosis of MR is based on the failure of the cld to meet the expectations of one social system (school); little consideration given to child's adjustment in other social systems (family & neighborhood)

In an effort to correct these discriminatory practices in the intellectual assessment of children from different cultural backgrounds developed SOMPA (SYSTEM OF MULTICULTURAL PLURALISTIC ASSESSMENT) (talk about when discussing assessment---)

3) Consequences of Labeling

Deviancy theorist emphasize the negative consequences of labeling a person MR

Labels create a stereotype that overshadow the wide range of individual differences

Prevailing stereotype???totally incompetent and dependent and should reside in institutions

Persons labeled MR come to accept the low expectations of themselves (self fulfilling prophecy--even lower self-esteem and achievement)

Stigmatized --devalued, discredited, regarded as superfluous in our society

They have been segregated, stripped of legal rights, become victims of subhuman treatment

The social system perspective shifts attention away from individual to the characteristic of the social settings in which a person is labeled mentally retarded. This perspective tells us something about a society's tolerance for intellectual differences and the methods it has developed to mange those who are judged to be mentally retarded.


Developmental and Difference Theories


The clinical, social system, and developmental perspectives embody concepts that enhance our understanding the mental retardation construct

These perspectives can be viewed as complementary rather than incompatible

Clinical Perspective focuses on the characteristic of the individual

Social System and Developmental Perspectives focus on the influence of external factors

Clinical perspective most applicable to those referred to as clinically retarded (Moderate to profound; IQ less than 55; diagnosis usually made at birth; condition unchanging throughout life; due to organic defects

Forms of clinical retardation are obvious to the untrained observer--have been described as the "absolute" type of MR because they stand out in any existing culture

Socioculturally retarded--those persons with mild intellectual impairment with IQ's ranging from 55 to 69 (not diagnosed until child enters school; has academic difficulty, seldom marked physical characteristics, laboratory test usually negative [this has changed somewhat with more advanced technology]

Sociocultural retardation is best understood within the social system perspective--label retarded "relative" to the standards of a particular setting of which They are a part

Developmental perspective holds that both groups of MR are capable of behavioral change through appropriate programs of education and habilitation