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Behavioral Problems Common in Mentally Retarded Children

Support programs are needed, Australian researchers say

TUESDAY, Oct. 24, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Behavioral and emotional problems are common among young people who are mentally retarded, and the incidence of such problems declines very slowly over the years, an Australian study finds.

Not much attention has been paid to these problems, ranging from cursing and head-banging to failure to communicate with other people, said researchers from the University of Sydney. But the study found that 41 percent of the young people they followed had such problems, and the incidence dropped by only about 1 percent a year over a 14-year period.

"Although it declined, the level remained relatively high," said Andrea M. Piccinin, who took part in the study and now is a research associate professor of human development and family sciences at Oregon State University. "We make the case that intervention and more understanding of the factors that would lessen psychopathology would be important."

The findings are published in the Oct. 25 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study included 578 children and teens who were ages 5 to 19 at the start of the research in 1991. They were judged by the Developmental Behavior Checklist, a standard measure for children with what are formally called developmental disabilities.

"We looked at a global score and five subscales," Piccinin said. "The social relations subscale showed an increase. As these children come into adolescence and get older, there are more issues with their social relations, because they are in a situation where more is expected of them."

The decrease occurred in the scales that measured anxiety, communication ability, destructive behavior and general disturbance, she said. Overall, the incidence of problems was 30 percent at the end of the study.

The decrease in problems was greater in boys than girls over time, and the decrease was greater in those with mild retardation than in those with severe mental disability.

"The observation that severe psychopathology was already present in a high proportion of the cohort at commencement of the study, and the persistence of these symptoms, suggest the need for effective mental interventions," the researchers said. "This should include support, education and skills training for their parents, who are likely to be stressed by the burden of care."

Only 10 percent of the young people with behavioral and emotional problems received mental health interventions during the study, the researchers found.

"This points to the importance of intervention," Piccinin said.

More information

More on mental retardation is offered by the National Dissemination Center for Children With Disabilities.

SOURCES: Andrea Piccinin, Ph.D., research associate professor of human development and family sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis; Oct. 25, 2006, Journal of the American Medical Association
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