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Are People with Down syndrome Mentally Retarded?

posted Saturday August 2nd, 2008

Before you start pelting rotten eggs at your computer screen, let me explain.

First, “mental retardation” is a medical term. The IQ cut off is 69. Seventy, and you’re not retarded.

Second, I have spent much of the year considering this topic, particularly since Sophie’s IQ clocked in at 83.

(This was the topic of the piece I did for This American Life, which you can find at — it ran June 30, the social engineering show. Sophie’s about to pop in the room and my blogging time will be over, so I can’t paste the URL in. Sorry!)

Sophie was not even 5 when they tested her, and some smart people discount IQ tests altogether. So take that 83 for what it might or might not be worth. I took it to a professional, since losing the MR status (while super for me, her bragging parent) could be troubling for Sophie: It could mean a loss in services at a crucial time.

There was some doubt about the veracity of the tests she was given this spring, at school.

So today, Ray and I will meet with the psychologist who has spent the summer retesting her. I’ll let you know the results.

I’m sad, in anticipation. And selfish, I know. But wouldn’t you want to have the smartest little kid with Down syndrome, ever?

Either way, I know I do.

(Well, that made for a nice last line, anyway.)

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3 Responses to “Are People with Down syndrome Mentally Retarded?”

  1. Dear Amy,
    Your question is apparently hyperbole. So, I won’t answer it, badly as I want to. I’m not sure what to call what follows, since it’s not an “answer”.
    I (bold & underlined) have “the smartest little kid with Down Syndrome, ever.” He can play the piano, and read and write complete sentences with big words. But something is missing in his cranium. He’s canny yet uncanny. It breaks my heart, even 32 years later.
    His functioning is so high that he refuses to hang with other “retarded” people. He is attracted only to normal girls, not the ones with whom he might actually have a chance. Their legal age or marital status is irrelevant. (Is that abnormal?)
    Ok, I think I get it. There is a multiplicity here. Perhaps this captures it: “He may be retarded, but he’s not stupid.” Thus, his brothers have expectations that exceed ordinary propriety: they ridicule things that outsiders might deem impatient.
    If you insist on making that I.Q. number significant, Sophie may not be retarded. What about her cranium? (Rhetorical question.)
    This response is my hug. I need one too.
    Yours truly,
    R. Polk
    Lubbock, Texas
    P.S. Ryan called yesterday. He invited himself to dinner next week. As usual, he wants to add some CDs to his iPod. Thank goodness his mom, my ex, is clueless about technical things, or I’d almost never see him.

  2. I don’t put much stock in IQ testing at all! My son has had 3 IQ tests in his life and they ranged from 84 to 110! The 110 was the first test when he was 8 or 9.

    I think that people with Down syndrome are extremely intelligent when it comes to intelligence. I think they get most everything.

    They may learn a little slower than what others do, but that doesn’t mean they are unintelligent. It just means they need a little more time to process the information.

    They may not can express all their thoughts the way they wish they could. But that doesn’t mean they are unintelligent either. It just means they have trouble expressing their thoughts.

    My son has a T-shirt that says, “You laugh at me because I am different… I laugh at you because you are all the same!”

    Although my son has mosaic Down syndrome (a rare form of Down syndrome) he is intelligent. He does have trouble expressing his thoughts and he does have trouble learning at the same pace as others. However, in many ways he knows a whole lot more than me!

    Does that make me unintelligent? I don’t think so…. I think we all learn at different paces.

  3. That brings to mind the question just what exactly is the true definition of MR? Does it mean the brain doesn’t move as fast as typical brains? Or does it mean that somehow the little pathways are messed up or blocked? Maybe both? Perhaps the intellegence is there, but cannot be expressed in a way the IQ tests can capture.

    I wonder how my daughter will do when she takes one of those dreaded IQ tests? And yes, I do want to have the smartest little kid with Down syndrome ever. I also want my 2 typical boys to be the smartest little kids ever. Is that bad?

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