Last month we talked about motor skill differences with children. This month we will discuss varies mental disabilities.
People with mental impairments develop at a slower rate emotionally, developmentally, and physically. Genetic conditions, problems with pregnancy, and early health problems may cause mental retardation. Mental retardation is very common, affecting 3 out of every 100 people. There are four basic levels of retardation. With all mental disabilities, the structure is key. Advice for working with those students with mental retardation includes breaking down tasks into simpler steps, using concise simple directions, providing opportunities for repetition, repeating tasks and skills, and striving for appropriate age-level behavior. A good teacher or trainer will have more than one way to accomplish a goal if the first way they teach the student does not work.
Educable Mentally Handicapped (EMH) is characterized as a mild impairment. These individuals are typically mainstreamed in a regular education classroom with additional help from aides and special education support staff. Many EMH persons are able to lead normal lives, live independently, and hold employment. Teachers and trainers find that providing visual directions with pictures and simple directions and pausing to give instructions at slower rate work well with these children. Eighty-five percent of persons with disabilities fall into this area. Poor motor coordination with fine or gross motor skills or both is a part of mental retardation.
Most students will Down’s fall under the EMH category. They learn at a slower rate, are often stubborn, but can also be very affectionate. These students may suffer from physical defects such as hearing or vision loss, heart defects, gastrointestinal problems, and respiratory problems. Using a firm, fair, friendly, fun, affirming, positive, and consistent environment will prove effective with these students. When they have an opportunity to spend time alone with a choice of teacher-directed activities, they will perform well in the classroom or gym. They have infectious personalities and easily make friends wherever they go.
Prader-Willi Syndrome is another EMH condition usually present from birth and characterized by obesity, decrease muscle tone, and decreased mental ability. These individuals may have immature physical development and short stature. This person has an uncontrollable need to eat and will sneak in and steal food. Food is not properly digested so rapid weight gain occurs even when portions are controlled. Behavioral characteristic includes sudden temper tantrums accompanied by violent outbursts, stubbornness, resistance to change, and poor social relationship. Learning disabilities, speech and language difficulties, and short-term memory problems can also occur. A teacher or trainer can find alternatives to food by providing activities that the individual likes. Sports activities are limited because running and jumping can cause joint injuries due to poor muscle strength and poor coordination, possible bone fracture due to early osteoporosis, and decreased muscle bulk. Walking, swimming and stationary exercise equipment are great alternatives. Training with weights or body weight can be effective to preserve muscle tone, and daily exercise at least 30 minutes can be helpful.
Moderate Mental Impairment
Trainable Mentally Handicapped (TMH) individuals have moderate or severe disabilities. They are traditionally in self-contained classrooms with mainstreamed opportunities during social times of the day when they interact with students and special classes. They may be self-sufficient if supervised during instruction, but it very helpful to have physical occupational therapists and adaptive specialists help modify activities when working with these individuals.
Severe Mental Impairment
These students are often grouped by themselves in a non-traditional school setting such as a cooperative or therapeutic school. Activities must be basic with a lot of emphasis on improvement and stabilization of fine and gross motor abilities. Some students may talk but many are non-verbal. It is essential for teachers and trainers to find an effective way to communicate with their students through the use of sign language and pictures. Often these students will have a secondary condition of a behavior disorder because of their lack of ability to communicate.
Profound Mental Impairment
These individuals learn at an extremely slow rate. Often they can’t talk and have limited self-help skills. They require supervised care throughout life. Even these students enjoy group games using a parachute, catching a ball, or taking a walk outside.
This disorder only occurs in girls with severe and profound mental retardation. The individual is born normally and develops until six to eighteen months of age. At that point, they lose mental and development ability. Signs of Rhett’s include repetitive hand movements, hand-wringing, hand clapping, and hand mouthing. Children with Rhett’s enjoy music, may benefit from working on small and large motor movements, and enjoy long supervised walks. Next month we will discuss Learning Disabilities, ADHD, Autism, behavior challenges, with children.
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