​Mental Retardation

Mental retardation (or intellectual disability) means having below average intelligence and skills necessary for daily life. It exists in children and adults whose brains do not develop properly or function within the normal range.

There are two main areas affected by intellectual disability:

  • Intellectual reasoning or I.Q. (Intelligence Quotient, usually measured by a standardized test): This is the ability to think, reason, learn, make decisions and solve problems. The average person’s IQ is one hundred. Anyone with an IQ below seventy or seventy five is considered intellectually disabled.

  • Adaptive behaviours: This is the area that includes necessary life skills such as socialization, communication and taking care of oneself.

The onset of mental retardation usually occurs before the age of 18. A person suffering from intellectual disability will have difficulty functioning in everyday life as well as learning skills that other people can easily perform, such as getting dressed and taking care of his/her personal hygiene. Some types of intellectual disabilities include Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.

Symptoms of intellectual disability differ, depending on the level of the disability. There are four levels of retardation:

  • Mild Mental Retardation

  • Moderate Mental Retardation

  • Severe Mental Retardation

  • Profound Mental Retardation

Symptoms vary, depending on how advanced the disability is. The common ones include:

  • Having problems with reading and writing​

  • Being socially immature

  • Having a below average IQ

  • Having other conditions including autism, epilepsy, or physical disability

  • Being slower in understanding and using language

  • Being unable to live independently

  • Having impaired motor skills

  • Seizures

These symptoms may be accompanied by other behavioural symptoms such as:

  • Aggression

  • Dependency

  • Withdrawal from social activities

  • Attention-seeking

  • Depression

  • Impulsiveness

  • Getting easily frustrated

  • Short attention span​

Sometimes there are physical deformations such as a hunched spine and malformed facial features.​​

If your child is facing any of the above symptoms, or you notice a change in his/her emotional state, social behaviour or physical abnormalities, it is recommended that you get your child tested for intellectual disabilities. You can obtain additional information from the Mind and Brain Service Line​ at The Aga Khan University Hospital.​

Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here​ are some tips to help get you started.​

In order to diagnose mental retardation, your doctor will assess whether the patient’s intellectual and social skills are below average. There are three steps in this evaluation:

  • Interviews with parents

  • Observations of the child

  • Standard tests

Standard tests are used to determine a child’s IQ and social skills. These include the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test and Vineland Adaptive Behaviour Scales. These tests and results vary according to the child’s culture, socio-economic status and family background. Test results and family history will be used to develop a diagnosis.

During the screening process, you will interact with a number of different doctors and professionals such as:

  • Psychologists

  • Speech therapists

  • Paediatric neurologists

  • Physical therapists

Your doctor will attempt to rule out other causes of learning disabilities such as hearing loss, learning disorders, neurological disorders, and emotional problems before making a definite diagnosis of mental retardation.​

Treatment for mental retardation depends on the type of illness. If your or your loved one’s symptoms are mild, you may only need limited intervention and medication to manage symptoms. For more advanced cases, considerable treatment and therapy is required. Medications are used to improve symptoms, but they cannot cure the underlying cause. Some commonly prescribed medications include:

  • Antidepressants: used to treat depression.

  • Anti-anxiety medications: used to treat anxiety disorders, help reduce agitation and manage insomnia.

  • Mood-stabilizing medications: commonly used to treat bipolar disorders, which involve alternating between mania and depression.

  • Antipsychotic medications: used to treat psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia​.​

  • Anti-epileptic drugs to treat seizures

Another option is psychotherapy, which involves meeting a psychotherapist and discussing your condition, moods, feelings and behaviour. A therapist will help you to reduce stress and learn to manage your symptoms in a more informed manner. Other types of therapy include speech therapy, physical therapy and treatment for substance abuse (such as addition to drugs or alcohol).​

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​



The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.​