mental handicap (previously used term now replaced by learning disability)

Last edited 01/2021 and last reviewed 01/2021

Mental handicap, and mental retardation are terms previously used but now have been replaced.

In line with NICE's guideline on challenging behaviour and learning disabilities, a learning disability is defined as meeting 3core criteria:

  • lower intellectual ability (usually an IQ of less than 70)
  • significant impairment of social or adaptive functioning
  • onset in childhood.

A person's learning disability may be described as mild, moderate, severe or profound. Learning disabilities are different from specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, which do not affect intellectual ability.