CORVALLIS, Ore. – Behavioral and emotional problems in mentally retarded children do not decrease substantially as they become adults, according to a new study from Oregon State University researchers and Australian colleagues.
The findings, which suggest a heightened need for mental health intervention, were published in the Oct. 25 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study included 578 children and teens who were between 5 and 19 at the start of the research in 1991. They were judged by the Developmental Behavior Checklist, a standard measure for children with developmental disabilities.
As most previous findings have been based on cross-sectional designs, this study provides clear evidence that the problem of psychopathology coexisting with intellectual disability is both substantial and persistent.
“People with intellectual disability have much higher levels of mental health problems than do the general population,” said OSU Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Sciences Andrea Piccinin. She and Professor Scott Hofer, both of the OSU College of Health and Human Sciences, contributed to the study.
“Although these problems decrease to some extent as they move through childhood into young adult life, at least 30 percent are still affected. This is a real public mental health problem.”
Hofer and Piccinin teamed with Australian principal investigators Bruce Tonge and Stewart Einfeld in analyzing data from the long-term Australian Child to Adult Development (ACAD) study. They determined that while emotional and behavioral problems, ranging from cursing and head-banging to failure to communicate with other people, decreased more rapidly in boys than in girls over time, the problems were still more persistent than might be expected.
In addition, those with mild retardation who started out with similar severity of problems had better results as they got older than those with severe mental disabilities.
The researchers found that only 10 percent of the young people received mental health interventions during the study.