Children who are mentally challenged are often referred to as being intellectually disabled. It is characterized by below-average intelligence or mental ability (i.e. learning, reasoning, problem solving, etc.) and a lack of adaptive behaviour required for day-to-day living (i.e. interpersonal skills, self-esteem, ability to follow rules/obey laws).
Numerous factors can facilitate its onset, but more noticeably; genetic predisposition (i.e. Down Syndrome), complications during pregnancy or childbirth (substance abuse), injury (i.e. near drowning), trauma (i.e. severe parental neglect) or an infection (i.e. meningitis).
Notice The Signs
Knowing when your child should achieve certain developmental milestones (refer “Fostering Mental Health in Children” article) can give you an indication of whether they are growing at a normal pace or whether development is being delayed or obstructed.
Early recognition will ensure better interventions for the child. So, immediately seek professional (i.e. paediatrician, doctor) help if you detect any signs of developmental delay.
Signs may appear during infancy, or they may not be noticeable until a child reaches school age. Other typical symptoms may include:
- Lack of or slow development of motor skills, language skills, and self-help skills, especially when compared to peers.
- Failure to grow intellectually or continued infant-like behaviour.
- Lack of curiosity.
- Failure to adapt (adjust to new situations).
- Difficulty understanding and following social rules.
Diagnosing The Problem
The evaluation and classification of intellectual disability is a complex issue and should be done by a professional. In essence, it involves:
- significant limitations in intellectual functioning
- significant limitations in adaptive behaviour
- onset before the age of 18
The IQ test is a tool used by professionals in measuring intellectual functioning. Other tests are used to determine limitation in adaptive behaviour (i.e. conceptual, social, and practical skills).
Generally, an IQ test score of around 70 to 75 indicates a limitation in intellectual functioning.
Never Lose Hope
Understandably, parents in care of a mentally disabled child may undergo certain challenges not typically experienced by most parents. This may include (among other things) societal acceptance of their child as a result of stigma, self blame which can lead to depression, and an overwhelming sense of worry for the future wellbeing of their child if and when they’re gone.
Nevertheless, this cannot be used as an excuse to incur neglect – the child’s future, wellbeing and happiness is top priority. Consider these helpful tips:
- Learn to accept your child’s condition and appreciate them regardless. A positive outlook and attitude to suit is crucial – your child needs help; wasting time grieving over your fate is counterproductive.
- Find out as much as you can about your child’s condition. The more you know the better advocate you can be for your child.
- Play an active and supportive role while providing an enabling environment for the child to develop different abilities, skills and interests.
- Teach your child all of the survival skills required to function on a day-to-day basis to at least be able to take care of the basics (i.e. hygiene, money, nutrition, etc.).
- Sign your child up for early intervention programmes as soon as possible. These programmes are individually modified to cater for your child’s specific condition, age and learning curve.
- Follow your child’s progress closely at school with a teacher and reinforce what your child has learned there at home.
- Plan for their future – full independence is preferable but often not possible. Consider medical treatment, financial, and social planning for your child and make sure other willing family members (or even close friends) are involved.
- Be open to professional counselling to help you cope with the challenges or stresses that you might face along the way.
- You’re not alone in this. Connect with other parents of intellectually disabled children. They can be of great help and support at times when you need it most.
- Search for social support offered by the government, private sector, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to address some of the challenges.
Most importantly, shower your child with the love and affection that he deserves and empower him with a sense of self worth. Remember, your child – however beautifully-flawed he/she may be – is an extension of yourself, a gift loaned to you so that you may be eternally grateful.