What Is a Mental Retardation Assessment?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2018
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A mental retardation assessment evaluates a patient to determine whether retardation is present, and to quantify its severity. This may be recommended if a child has suspected mental retardation or a syndrome associated with it, or experiences developmental delays that might be explained with a careful evaluation. It is performed by a professional with specific training in this area and a background in a field like psychiatry, genetics, or pediatrics. Several series of tests may be required for a thorough assessment.

In the course of a mental retardation assessment, the assessor can interact with the child, presenting a series of tasks and noting the response. The goal is to check for cognitive deficits that might interfere with the ability to perform tasks of daily living and critical thinking. Testing is tailored for the child’s age to ensure people are not asked to perform inappropriate tasks. A nine month old infant, for example, is likely to perform poorly on a task that requires reading.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) testing may be considered as part of a mental retardation assessment, to determine the child’s capacity for learning and applying knowledge. In addition, interviews with parents may be requested to collect demographic information that might be beneficial. This can include reports of genetic conditions in the family or a history of using drugs during a pregnancy. The assessor may work with the child’s doctors to go over medical records and take note of specific events and concerns.


If the mental retardation assessment indicates that some developmental delays are present, the assessor can assign a score of mild, moderate, severe, or profound mental retardation based on a number of testing parameters. The score can help medical providers determine what kinds of interventions may be appropriate to help the child live as independently as possible. For example, someone with mild retardation might be able to mainstream in a school with some assistance, while profound mental retardation may require more interventions.

Children are not the only people who may undergo a mental retardation assessment. In some cases testing can be requested for adults if there are concerns a diagnosis was missed or that someone lacks the capacity to consent, participate in a legal trial, or make other decisions. Assessors meet with the client to conduct a series of tests, looking specifically to see if signs of delays emerged early in childhood. The evaluation can include an exploration of why the issue wasn’t identified earlier in life, when the patient might have been able to benefit from interventions.



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Post 2

The earlier a child is assessed and starts receiving therapy, the better it is for the child's eventual progress. It's really never too soon for a child the parents suspect of mental retardation to be assessed. Even a six-month-old can be assessed, and if intervention begins early, the child usually fares better mentally and physically.

I think child life specialists who think a child should be a certain age before he or she is assessed are doing a special needs child a grave disservice. Some feel a child should be at least three years old, but therapy can start much earlier and it is very helpful, even before the age of 12 months.

Post 1

Children may also receive ongoing assessments from their teachers, so the instructors can plan for their learning needs.

My dad taught special education and he had to administer a battery of tests every year to every student to monitor their progress and see where they needed improvement.

These tests usually included reading comprehension, basic math skills, vocabulary and spelling. An average student would probably consider the tests very basic, but they are pretty good at evaluating a special needs student's actual grade level. These tests are very helpful for a teacher so they will know what to focus on for the next year.

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