DYNACII's Life Coach
July 2, 2013

My mentally retarded son is top of his music class. Is this a mistake?

Dear Life Coach,

My eight-year-old son was diagnosed with severe mental retardation when he was age four, so he has been placed in a special education class. Since he was a baby, he was always fascinated with anything musical; he smiled and clapped to the beat when songs were playing. He particularly loves the keyboard, so whenever we went shopping, he pulled me to go and look at them so he could press the keys. Two years ago, I signed him up for music lessons at his request, although I personally doubted that anything could come of it.{{more}} I have noticed, however, that over this period of time he has grown by leaps and bounds musically and he is so much happier. He is at the top of his music class and the teacher is impressed and so is everyone else. He is doing so well that I am beginning to wonder if he is a musical genius or something. How is it that he is doing so well if he is mentally retarded? Did they make a mistake when they assessed him? No one else in my family is mentally retarded.

Surprised Mother (SM)

Dear SM,

You can’t believe that your son has a musical talent because he has a severe intellectual dysfunction.

What’s Going On:

Here are some factors that contribute to your present situation: mental retardation/intellectual disability, Savant Syndrome, skill learning, musical talent, successful living.

Intellectual Dysfunction (Mental Retardation)

Intellectual Dysfunction refers to a significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning (very low intelligence) that exists along with deficits in adaptive behaviour (inability to function age-appropriately) which is present at birth, or which begins before age 18. This deficiency also interferes with the person’s ability to adjust to the demands of life and manifests itself in poor learning, inadequate social adjustment and delayed achievement.

Normal Intelligence

Normal intelligence is placed at 100 on the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test. Individuals who score below an IQ of 70 are considered to be mentally retarded and may be classified as profound, severe, moderate or mild, depending on its severity.

Causes of Intellectual Dysfunction

Intellectual Dysfunction may be caused by a number of factors, including the following:

1. Genetic/hereditary (e.g. chromosomal deficiency).

2. Physical (e.g. trauma such as accidents/brain damage, infections such as Rubella, or taratogens such as drugs or radiation).

3. Psychosocial disadvantages (e.g. social deprivation, and lack of intellectual stimulation).

4. Emotional disturbance (e.g. due to extreme emotional trauma).

Savant Syndrome

An individual has Savant Syndrome when he or she is diagnosed as mentally retarded, but is able to perform an unusual or incredible mental feat; for example, solving complicated puzzles or demonstrates exceptional musical ability. In your case, your son may be somewhat of a musical genius. Originally the term used was ‘Idiot Savant’. ‘Idiot’ refers to a mentally retarded individual whose mental age was less than three years-old. The term ‘Savant’ refers to a person of exceptional learning.

Skill Learning

During the middle childhood stage of development (your son’s present stage), one important psychosocial achievement is that of industry, that is, the need and desire of children to learn to do and master various skills such as music, drama, drawing, painting football, cricket, basketball, reading, writing, etc. This mastery in multiple areas gives children a sense of being capable of achievement, which in turn boosts their self-esteem and makes them want to do more even more, and as they succeed, they grow in confidence and eventually become productive members of society. On the other hand, children who do not achieve industry, experience a sense of inferiority, and a lack of confidence and are more likely to become delinquents or drop-outs of society. So, it is wonderful that you have enrolled your son in music and that he is doing well.

What to Do:

Musical Talent

Your son clearly has a natural musical ability which you should treasure and nourish as far as you possibly can. Encourage him and provide him with all that he needs in order to advance, especially since this makes him so happy and fulfilled.

Successful Living

Since your son is mentally retarded, this means that he is developing at a slower rate intellectually, and is not likely to achieve full adult mental capabilities (that is, mentally, he is expected to remain childlike). However, he may be taught to care for himself, taught simple skills, and with training, may also be able to hold down a simple job as an adult, within a highly supervised context. So, continue to provide him with individualized education, nurture his musical talents and interests, and train him in self care and other adaptive functions for daily living.

SM, it is wonderful that your son is so talented. Keep on supporting him in his musical endeavours. His skill may take him much farther than you can ever imagine.

Life Coach


Need help with relationship and other problems? Ask DYNACII’s Life Coach. Email your questions to dynacii@gmail.com. To Chat with the Life Coach, visit: http://www.dynacinternational.com. Dynamic Action Center International Inc. (DYNACII) a non-governmental organization committed to social and spiritual empowerment.