Physician: Oligophrenia

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The little girl my husband and I may be adopting from Kazakhstan was taken away from her mother because her mother was dx with oligophrenia and was unable to care for her. This scares me because I teach mentally handicapped children and I know many of them have low IQ parents. I also know that environment is a factor. The little girl is almost 2 and she is described as normal development. What are the chances of oligophrenia being hereditary?

Oligophrenia usually is used to mean mentally deficient. It is an unfortunate term because it is very broad and prone to misuse. Mental retardation has a number of etiologic factors. unfortunately in about 40 percent of cases we never find out the etiology after a thorough investigation. Mental retardation occurs in about 2-3% of the general population but will be higher in less developed nations.The chances of whether there is a genetic cause for mental retardation are therefore very hard to say. It would be reasonable to assume perhaps that if someone suffered some perinatal insult that their retardation would be secondary to that insult.

A number of single gene disorders can result in mental retardation. Many of these are associated with atypical or dysmorphic physical characteristics. Such conditions include fragile X syndrome, neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis, Noonan's syndrome and Cornelia de Lange's syndrome.

As many as one fourth of persons with mental retardation will have a detectable chromosome abnormality. Children with Down syndrome usually are very recognizable but others such as Klinefelters may not be as noticeable. Other children may have a small deletion that is usually not reported. Some chromosome abnormalities can be inherited but most occur de novo meaning that the pop up in that individual but that they would not pass it on to there offspring.

As with many things in life there are no simple answers, knowing the increased incidence problems that happen to young children in that part of the world it is likely to say that the mothers problem was probable the result of some perinatal insult or confluence of many factors. No one will be able to give you a very reliable odds estimate.

On the bright side a knowledgeable examiner should be able to give an idea about this individual child. The statement "normal development" means little to me unless it placed in the proper context. What is the child's head circumference? Was there any delayed milestones? Does the child have imaginative play? When did she enter the institution/how long has she been there? In reality every child put up for adoption has a risk. It is the job of the doctor to give you report of what the risks are. Unfortunately, to do a good job we try to review as much information as we can possibly get.

by James Reilly, M.D.

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The information and advice provided is intended to be general information, NOT as advice on how to deal with a particular child's situation and or problem. If your child has a specific problem you need to ask your pediatrician about it - only after a careful history and physical exam can a medical diagnosis and/or treatment plan be made. This Web site does not constitute a physician-patient relationship.

This material has been provided by, an innovative adoption medicine private practice and educational service, dedicated to helping parents and adoption agencies with the complex pre-adoption medical issues of internationally adopted children. All medical interactions are performed via, e-mail, express mail, telephone, and fax. There is no need to make a live appointment or travel outside of your hometown. For more information, visit or call 631-499-4114.

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