Postnatal Etiology

Overall, postnatal etiology of mental retardation is implicated less often than prenatal and perinatal conditions. Nonetheless, many conditions in these early years can lead to mental retardation. In fact, it has been estimated that between 5 and 20% of cases of mental retardation are a result of trauma or neglect. Postnatal causes include traumatic brain injury, cerebral infections (e.g., meningitis and encephalitis), child abuse (e.g., shaken baby syndrome), lead poisoning, and nutritional deficiencies. Childhood head injuries can be a result of various agents (e.g., falls, motor vehicle accidents, bicycle accidents, gunshot wounds, and sports-related injuries). Those at highest risk of a brain injury are boys between the ages of 15 and 18 years and children younger than 5 years of age.

Environmental etiologies are most often related to the presence of mild mental retardation. A large percentage of persons with mental retardation are affected by psychosocial retardation due to economic disadvantage such as poverty. This group includes those who have a diagnosis of mental retardation that did not result from a distinctive, identifiable organic or genetic anomaly.

Environmental risk factors work in combination to impact outcomes of children who do not have any identifiable biological risk but for whom early life experiences are sufficiently limiting that they impart a high probability for delayed development. Poverty has pervasive effects on a child, the family, and the environment. Poverty does not equate to defining a certain cultural group, but poverty is pervasive across cultures. However, not all characteristics described will be present in each economically disadvantaged home situation. In addition, it is important to note that many children reared in impoverished homes function within normal intellectual levels.

Many years of study have enabled researchers to identify causative factors within the impoverished environments that may directly or indirectly impact developmental outcomes. Intergenerational patterns of dysfunction can affect the cognitive development of children. In the case of poverty, the environment may be analogous to poor nutrition, health care, self-esteem, limited parenting skills due to young maternal age or lack of education of the parents, and limited educational and vocational opportunities. The home environment may be overcrowded, understimulating, unpredictable, or provide an excessive amount or inappropriate type of stimulation. In addition, dis-advantaged families may not be able to provide basic survival necessities such as food or adequate shelter. Family economics often result in low parental education, low social status of the family, and low parental expectations, which all can negatively impact development resulting in cognitive and adaptive behavior limitations.

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