What Is the Connection between Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2018
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Mental retardation and developmental disabilities are primarily the same thing, although the former is usually considered to be an outdated term. Developmental disabilities may also refer to those with physical limitations in some cases. Those with mental retardation and developmental disabilities often learn things more slowly than others and they may lack social and other necessary skills.

Like with many conditions, people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities can fall within many categories. There are various primary causes of developmental delays, including autism and Down Syndrome. It is important to note that not all children who are born with these conditions will be mentally retarded. There are also different levels of disability, from mildly delayed to severe.

Those with mild cases of mental retardation and developmental disabilities may be able to eventually live independently or with only minor assistance. They generally take longer than other children to learn certain skills and abilities, but they are often capable of doing so with the right guidance and programs. Early intervention is highly important for children who are thought to have any learning disability because catching up is easier within the first few years of life.


Individuals with more severe cases of developmental delays may need lifelong care and monitoring. Some may learn to walk and talk effectively, while others may remain nonverbal. There are some who remain in an infantile state and who require constant supervision and care in order to survive.

Many times, those with mental retardation and developmental disabilities also have other health problems which must be dealt with. For instance, those with Down Syndrome often have heart and other organ defects. Infants born with cerebral palsy may have trouble learning to gain control over their muscles and fine motor skills. In some cases these problems are long-term and require a lifetime of monitoring and special care.

There is no cure for mental retardation. Some children can eventually learn skills necessary for independence or partial independence. Many adults living with developmental disabilities live alone, hold down jobs, and enjoy an active social life. Each individual case is different. Some individuals are never able to do these things, although most are able to form some type of bond with caregivers and communication.



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