Mentally challenged adults are clinically referred to as mentally retarded adults. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the mentally retarded have considerable intellectual deficits as evidenced by substandard IQ scores. An IQ of less than 70 supports a diagnosis into one of the four categories of mental retardation: mild, moderate, severe or profound. Although an IQ score plays a large role in qualifying someone as mentally retarded or challenged, there are other significant symptoms to consider.
The New York Child Study Center reports that cognitive abilities differ widely across the four categories of mental retardation. The mildly mentally retarded are considered to be “educable,” meaning that they can achieve academically at about a sixth-grade level. The moderately mentally retarded have the capacity to acquire academic skills comparable to those of a non-impaired second grade student, which would include basic counting, telling time and recognizing commonly used words. The severely mentally retarded can acquire some speech and may be able to recognize a few words, but they do not have the cognitive abilities to learn any academic skills such as reading. The profoundly mentally retarded are unable to communicate.
Physical symptoms dependent upon the severity of the mental retardation. The mildly mentally retarded may not appear to be impaired at all, exhibiting no physical symptoms. The other forms of mental retardation are usually associated with deformities of the face or head. In some cases, the forehead is sloped, the bridge of the nose is flat and the ears appear larger or smaller than normal.
Adaptive functioning refers to skills that are of a practical or social nature, such as the ability to earn a living and care for oneself. Mildly mentally retarded adults may be employed at minimum wage jobs and can likely be self-supporting. The majority who work favor independent living over group or supervised living situations. Moderately mentally retarded typically live with relatives or in a supervised group setting. The moderately mentally retarded can learn limited vocational skills as participants in specialized training schools, but are not likely to be self-supporting. The limited capacity of the severely mentally retarded only allows for the mastery of very basic hygiene tasks while supervised. The severely mentally retarded are not candidates for independent living. The profoundly mentally retarded are mostly non-communicative, and many are institutionalized due to their need for around-the-clock care.