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What Can Parents Do?

separator When you find out your child has mental retardation, your role as a parent becomes intensified. All parents need to support their children and encourage them to reach their potential. But when your child has mental retardation, there’s a lot more to learn and a lot more action to take.

►        Consult a child psychiatrist and a child psychologist to determine the causes of the mental retardation. This is extremely important. For example, if lead is the cause, you need to know—now. Removing the lead will prevent further mental deterioration, plus there are treatments that can help your child improve. It’s always good to know the cause of the mental retardation. It gives you more tools in dealing with your specific situation.

►        Get genetic counseling if the cause of the mental retardation is genetic. This can help you determine whether future children will also be at risk.

►        Encourage your child to be independent. Teach skills such as dressing, setting the table (one step at a time!), making the bed, etc.

►        Work closely with your child’s teachers. Stay in touch with them. Find out what your child is learning in the classroom, and reinforce those lessons at home. For example, if the teacher is giving lessons about money, let your child see how you use money when you’re shopping. Keep it simple, but do expose your child to all kinds of real-life situations.

►        Commit yourself to providing an enriched sensory environment for your child. To do this, approach total family education as an ongoing prospect. Families benefit from continuous counseling and therapy when one of their own members has mental retardation. As you continue with therapy, you can help your child with adaptive skills training, social skills training and vocational training. Additionally, group therapy can help your child get supportive feedback.

►        Connect with other families whose children have mental retardation. You can help each other by giving advice and moral support.

Being a parent of a child with mental retardation is a constant balancing act. You want to promote competence and self esteem while maintaining realistic expectations. To do this, you need all the help and support you can get. That’s the main message here—avail yourself of all the resources you can for yourself, your family and your child.

H. Kaplan, B. Sadock, J. Grebb, Synopsis of Psychiatry, Williams and Wilkins, 1994; National Institute of Mental Health; National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities; U.S. Department of Education.
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