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What is mental retardation in special education?

What is mental retardation in special education?

What strategies are used in teaching students with mental retardation?

An intellectual disability, formerly referred to as “mental retardation”, is not an inherent trait of any individual, but instead is characterized by a combination of deficits in both cognitive functioning and adaptive behavior. The severity of the intellectual disability is determined by the discrepancy between the individual's capabilities in learning and in and the expectations of the social environment.

It should be noted that while the term “mental retardation” is still widely used within education and government agencies; however, many advocacy groups feel that this label has too many negative connotations. The newer terms of intellectual disability or developmental disability are becoming far more accepted and prevalent within the field.

Impact on Learning

With the appropriate supports in place, students with intellectual disabilities can achieve a high quality of life in many different aspects. Curriculum and instruction must be carefully modified to help these students reach their potential in both academics and other functional areas such as independent living. While these students will have limitations in many adaptive behaviors, these limitations will co-exist alongside strengths in other areas within the individual. 

Teaching Strategies

To fully address the limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior often experienced by individuals with intellectual disabilities, teachers need to provide direct instruction in a number of skill areas outside of the general curriculum. These skills are more functional in nature but are absolutely essential for the future independence of the individual. Additional skill areas include money concepts, time concepts, independent living skills, self-care and hygiene, community access, leisure activities, and vocational training. Students with intellectual disabilities learn these skills most effectively in the settings or activities in which they will be asked to apply these skills. Once the skills are mastered, then additional environments can be added to work towards generalization.