Understanding Mental Retardation

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Mental Retardation is a major health, social and economic problem to the entire nation. Unfortunately, it has been cloaked in an aura of myth and stigma that reflect a lack of knowledge and understanding. The primary purpose of this study was to contact an empirical survey identifying the current status of public knowledge about mental retardation. Concomitant objectives were (a) to elicit what attitudes the public has toward mental retardation, and (b) to identify and relate certain population or demographic characteristics to this data. Implications of the aforementioned information are readily apparent: by determining the current status of public awareness, quantitatively and qualitatively, intelligent planning can be facilitated and the executions of long-range programs have direction. Henry Gottwald bases the case study shown below on a book Public Awareness about Mental Retardation. The data were collected through field interviews. Pre-testing of the questionnaire was accomplished by using a primary sampling unit. Attention was focused upon:

1. What does the term “mental retardation” mean to the public? 2. What do people know about mental retardation in terms of the following aspects? a. Causes of mental retardation
b. Prevention
c. Services or programs available
d. Cures for mental retardation
3. What are the various sources of information about mental retardation? a. Personal contact
b. Communication media
(1) Television
(2) Newspaper
(3) Magazines
(4) Radio
(5) Other

The initial questions in the field interview was an open ended query asking. What does the phrase “mentally retarded” mean to you? As might be expected, responses were diverse. Table 1

Meaning of the Phrase “Mentally Retarded”
Definition N Percent Mentally deficient below normal intelligence 464 30.6 Mentally deficient due to birth injury, brain damage 215 14.2 Mentally deficient due to other reasons 13 .9 Slow learner or incapable of learning 276 18.2 Lacks judgment, maturity, responsibility 15 1.0 Mentally ill 99 6.5 Not right, sick 111 7.3 Miscellaneous 287 19.2 Don’t know or irrelevant answer 100 6.6 No response 227 1.4

Almost half of the respondents (45 percent) described the phrase “mentally retarded” in terms of “mental deficiency.”

Table 2 Sources of information about Mental Retardation (N=2,695) Source N Percent Newspaper 550 36.3 Magazines 427 28.2 Books 76 5.0 Radio 215 14.2 Television 757 50.0 Movies...
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