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Profound Mental Retardation

Profound mental retardation is the rarest and most severe form of intellectual disability, comprising just under two percent of all individuals with mental retardation. (Severity is typically categorized as mild, moderate, severe or profound.) A person with profound mental retardation has an IQ score of less than 25. Many are blind, deaf, mute and/or physically disabled.

Many people with profound retardation have an underlying neurological disorder, such as Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy or Fragile X syndrome, that is at least partially responsible for their intellectual disability. Prenatal conditions and complications, such as severe malnutrition, rubella, toxoplasmosis or fetal alcohol syndrome, may also lead to mental retardation.

Signs of profound retardation are often discovered at birth or soon after. Simple speech and communication is very difficult for these individuals, and they often have to rely on basic gestures or sounds to communicate their needs to others. Children with profound intellectual disability are unable to read, write or do basic math. Their education will often focus on life skills, such as how to respond to potentially dangerous situations or events. Individuals with profound mental retardation are unable to work, live alone or care for themselves.

While many people with profound retardation are immobile, some are able to move around with the assistance of wheelchairs or walkers. A large portion of these individuals live in highly supervised homes and receive assistance for their basic needs, such as eating, bathing and getting dressed. Even when a person with profound retardation lives at home with family, they often require the help of a nurse or other specialist.

The American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR) has developed another widely accepted diagnostic classification system which focuses on the level of support required rather than the individual’s limitations. The categories include the following: intermittent support (mild retardation), limited support (moderate retardation), extensive support (severe retardation), and pervasive support (profound retardation). Pervasive support refers to lifelong, highly-supervised daily support.

Example: The group home offers 24-hour care for individuals with both severe and profound mental retardation.

Profound Mental Retardation
APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Profound Mental Retardation. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 1, 2020, from