Mental retardation is a disorder in which a person’s intellectual development and function are below average; mild mental retardation means the effects of this disorder are less severe than the average case. For example, a person who is mildly mentally retarded may have the same symptoms as someone who is diagnosed as mentally retarded, but his symptoms may be less noticeable or affect his life in less obvious ways. He might also function on a higher level than someone who is moderately or severely mentally retarded.
An individual who is diagnosed with mild mental retardation has below average intellectual ability and function. Typically, however, his intellectual function is still better than that of a person who is moderately or severely retarded. In most cases, people who are diagnosed with mild mental retardation are able to handle self-care tasks and become self-sufficient as adults. While their academic skills can be impaired, those who are mentally retarded are usually able to develop up to sixth-grade-level academic skills.
It may be easiest to understand the differences between mild, moderate, and severe retardation by considering intelligence quotients (IQs) of each. A severely mentally retarded individual might have an IQ that is between 20 and 35. If someone is moderately retarded, he might have an IQ that ranges from about 36 to 51. A person who is only mildly mentally retarded, however, is likely to have a higher IQ — in many cases, a person who meets this description has an IQ of about 52 to 69.
The symptoms of mild mental retardation normally include learning difficulties. For example, a person with this diagnosis could have a harder time acquiring academic skills, or he might learn at a significantly slower rate. Typically, a person who fits in this category is able to successfully complete academic levels up to grade six, though this may take many years to accomplish.
In comparison to a person who is moderately or severely retarded, a person with mild mental retardation usually has a much easier time communicating and developing social skills. He may experience impaired development of motor skills, but often this symptom is slight. In many cases, the symptoms of mild retardation are subtle enough to go undetected for many years.
Fortunately, being mildly mentally retarded doesn’t mean a person can't live a satisfying, productive life. With help, a person who fits this description can usually develop the skills he needs to live independently as an adult. This includes having a job and his own residence.