Module 12: Mental Retardation (Intellectual Disability)

Intellectually Disabled Baby with MotherCommonly Associated Disorders

Many children and teens with mental retardation (MR) (especially those with mild MR) are aware that they often cannot do what is expected of others their age and that they are different from their peers. They frequently have low self-esteem and are at high risk for emotional and behavioral difficulties. Children and teens with MR are also extremely vulnerable to exploitation by both peers and adults (e.g., experiencing sexual abuse and assault, being led into unsafe behaviors).

Reported rates of the proportion of individuals with MR who have associated mental disorders vary from 14 to 60 percent.1 The psychiatric needs of individuals of all ages with MR remain largely unmet for several reasons, including the perceived difficulties in diagnosing mental disorders in the presence of significant MR, a narrow focus on specific behavior issues, and the tendency to attribute symptoms of a mental disorder to MR rather than to a separate disorder.1 Yet, co-occurring mental disorders are the primary factor preventing individuals with MR from adapting successfully to living in the community.2

Commonly associated disorders in children and teens with MR include the following:

  • Pervasive developmental disorders
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Mood disorders


  1. Kerker, B. D., Owens, P. L., Zigler, E., & Horwitz, S. M. (2004). Mental health disorders among individuals with mental retardation: Challenges to accurate prevalence estimates. Public Health Reports, 119 (4), 409-417.
  2. Szymanski, L., & King, B. H. (1999). Practice parameters for the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults with mental retardation and comorbid mental disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38 (12 Suppl.), 5S-31S.

Copyright Georgetown University Georgtown University Mental Retardation