A Christian Perspective of Mental Retardation

An individual who is diagnosed to be mentally retarded functions considerably below average both intellectually and in life coping skills (Mental Retardation). They must have an I Q score below 70, as well as have deficits in areas, which interfere with l

An individual who is diagnosed to be mentally retarded functions considerably below average both intellectually and in life coping skills (Mental Retardation). They must have an I Q score below 70, as well as have deficits in areas, which interfere with living skills, with an onset of these deficits before 18 years of age. From 1-3 % of the general population is considered to be mentally retarded, with males more commonly so than females. The degree of severity of mental retardation is based on the IQ score and is divided into four reference categories.

Those with mild retardation score between 50 and 70 on the IQ scale as compared to 90 to 110 for the normal person. Moderate retardation ranks from 35 to 50 on the scale, while the severe/profound are below 35 and below 20. The largest percentage of individuals with mental retardation are mild to moderately affected. Less than 5% of the mentally retarded community is in the severe/profound group.

Those who are mildly affected can usually progress academically to a junior high level and often live in the community with very little assistance. Some of these wed and have relatively normal children and family structures. Moderately retarded individuals comprise a much smaller segment of the mentally challenged community and may progress to a lower elementary level academically. Their self-care skills are usually sufficient by adolescence and by adulthood they can work at low-skilled employment with some supervision required. The severely retarded can develop some very basic living skills and may be somewhat verbal. They usually need close supervision, often living with loved ones or in community based group homes. Those individuals who are considered profoundly retarded must have constant care and supervision. They may understand some language but are usually limited verbally.

The causes of mental retardation are varied, including genetic conditions, chromosomal conditions, prenatal and postnatal developments. Some genetic conditions are down syndrome, fragile x, and cerebral palsy, which has recently been linked to low birth weight babies of mothers who have had previous abortions. Chromosomal disorders which cause mental retardation are sometimes caused by a random error in the reproduction of the chromosomes and are not necessarily inherited from the parents. Metabolic and hormone disorders such as PKU, Tay-sachs disease, and hypothyroidism may cause mental retardation if left untreated, but with early postnatal testing and treatment this can largely be avoided. Some cases of mental retardation result from incestuous relationships, with these children being born to girls who have been sexually abused (raped) by a close relative.

Prenatal malnutrition, drug and alcohol use by both parents, exposure to environmental toxins, viral infections, and other diseases can all be causes of mental retardation. Problems occurring both during the birthing process and afterwards, such as fetal distress, prematurity, and low birth weight may also cause mental retardation. Low birth weight results in a higher percentage of children having cerebral palsy, which further results in mental retardation. Anytime the brain is deprived of oxygen for more than a couple of minutes some mental retardation is probable. Childhood onset of encephalitis or meningitis are causes as well. These can be mostly avoided through vaccination programs which prevent the childhood diseases that sometimes lead to these complications. Another cause of mental retardation is brain damage from physical traumas such as a blow to the head, a near drowning, and exposure to poisonous toxins during childhood. Some experts believe that a lack of intellectual and emotional stimulation in early childhood, which often accompanies families who live in extreme poverty can also lead to mental retardation.

Based on the 1990 census, approximately 7.5 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with mental retardation (Introduction to Mental Retardation). One out of every 10 families is affected by Mental Retardation in America. Diagnosis of mental retardation begins with standardized tests for intelligence and adaptive skills by a qualified person or agency. An interdisciplinary team determines the system of support a person needs to overcome limits in everyday functioning. Services for individuals who are mentally challenged are available on the local and state levels, while many of these services are both federally supervised and funded.

The Presidents Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities (PCIPD), which was renamed recently and signed by President George W. Bush by Executive Order, is a federal advisory committee that advises both the President and the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on key issues concerning those with intellectual disabilities (About the Committee). This committee coordinates activities between agencies and assesses the impact of those actions on individuals with mental deficiencies along with their families. The annual report, which results from several committee conferences, includes input from self-advocates, family members, support professionals, researchers, service providers, and leaders of state agencies. The Committee, which produces this report, also has a close relationship with state and local leaders to assist them with providing much needed supports and services to local communities.

Another agency on the national level is the ARC of the United States (Association for Retarded Citizens), which is an advocacy group that helps to ensure that those with mental retardation are treated appropriately with proper care and respect (The ARC Family Resource Guide). State and local chapters are available to provide needed services to these citizens and their families, as well as those with related developmental delays with an onset before age 22 whose living skills are significantly limited. Some of their services include respite services for adults and children and the appropriate transportation for those clients as well. Respite services usually include meals and recreational outings.

On the state level, the MS Department of Mental Health provides statewide network, which delivers services to those affected by mental illness, including mental retardation (Mississippi Department of Mental Health.). Services for alcohol and drug dependent persons and those who have developmental delays are included in their departmental responsibilities. This network insures that appropriate options are available through residential and community care facilities, which help prevent mass institutionalization of those better served locally.

The Bureau of Mental Retardation is responsible for the development and implementation of appropriate services for individuals with mental retardation and other developmental delays (Mental Retardation Services). The State Plan for Services and Supports for Individuals with Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities is annually produced by the Bureau in cooperation with the BMR State Plan Advisory Council. The plan is a guide to developing, implementing, and maintaining a comprehensive system of services and supports.

The Bureau is a state-operated public service system of delivery, which is primarily made up of five regional centers for those with mental retardation or other developmental delays. It also includes one state facility for under-age youth who have mental retardation and need a well supervised treatment program. Fifteen regional community mental health/mental retardation centers and numerous other nonprofit community agencies supplement the primary service facilities.

The regional centers are providers of institutional care along with community service programs that include residential and day treatment programs. Regional centers include Boswell Regional Center located in Sanatorium, MS, Ellisville State School located in Ellisville, Hudpeth Regional Center in Whitfield, North MS Regional Center in Oxford, and South MS Regional Center in Long Beach. Ellisville State School is the only center that serves birth to preschool age children diagnosed with severe/ profound mental retardation for whom residential services are deemed appropriate. The Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility, located in Brookhaven, is a residential facility for adolescents between 13 and 21 years of age with mental retardation who need supervised rehabilitation, often for involvement in criminal type activities.

Each regional center incorporates a community service division into their realm of responsibilities, by providing transitional, community-based programs in the locality of their service area. These programs include group homes, retirement homes, supervised apartments, supported living with case management, early intervention for children, work activities, and other employment programs.

Other services for the mentally retarded who qualify for services in an Intermediate Care Facility, but for which those services are not available, may apply for a MR/DD Waiver through the Division of Medicaid for home and community based services. Some of these services include attendant care, respite care, residential habilitation, day habilitation, prevocational services, supported employment, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech, language, and hearing therapy, along with medical supplies, and behavioral intervention services. Though there are many such services for those with mental retardation, as Christians, we could well prevent many cases by cleaning up our lifestyles. Smoking, alcohol, and drug use prior to and during conception and pregnancy, previous abortions, etc. all tend toward low birth-weight babies, which puts children at greater risk for mental retardation. Also, fighting to prevent childhood sexual abuse and rape by close relatives will help to decrease cases of mental retardation.  As Christians, we would do well to live lifestyles consistent with the Word of God and be examples to the rest of the world.  There is no excuse for these kinds of behaviors in the Christian Community, and if we are consistent with the Word of God, there will be less cases of mental retardation to deal with, even though some cases are clearly unavoidable in a fallen world. 

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Posted on Dec 30, 2009