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What Is Social Retardation?

By Tara Barnett
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Social retardation is a colloquial diagnosis of social deficiencies, not a medical diagnosis or type of retardation. While people who are mentally retarded can exhibit this type of behavior, many people who are otherwise considered normal, functioning human beings can also act in ways that would warrant this diagnosis. It is typically considered impolite or politically incorrect to use this designation because the term is pejorative and is not a true type of retardation. A more polite way to say that a person suffers from social retardation is to say that he or she has deficient social skills or to identify the actual disorder from which the person suffers.

Many different types of behavior are considered socially retarded in different cultures. Inability to understand turn taking in conversation, for example, is usually one of the defining characteristics of social retardation. A person who interrupts other speakers, talks exclusively about his or her own interests, or cannot follow the natural flow of a conversation may be said to be socially retarded. The precise rules governing conversation differ among cultures, but this type of problem is usually not a result of cultural differences.

This disorder is defined socially, and thus it has a number of different potential symptoms and associations. For example, people who are highly intelligent are sometimes thought to be socially retarded, even though these people have coherent interactions with one another. One major problem with social diagnoses is that they are mutable, and the conditions of the definition may change over time.

In almost all cases, social retardation is a problem with conversation. While a person might act in a way that is socially inappropriate, social retardation is an accusation reserved almost exclusively for language. This is in part because the type of rudeness involved in this type of interaction is jarring to fully socialized speakers in ways that rude behavior is not. Rude behavior can be explained by a person not caring about others, but disobeying the tacit rules of conversation points to a person who is not fully socialized.

Sometimes, people who suffer from social retardation actually suffer a different mental disorder altogether. Autism, Asperger's, and some types of anxiety can cause this type of behavior, and there are a variety of therapeutic strategies for improving conversational skills in these cases. Some people will never be able to fully understand social cues, but these people can often be taught indirectly how to recognize the appropriate way to act in a situation. On the other hand, sometimes inappropriate conversational behavior is a result of lack of practice or nerves, and in these cases the problem can be fixed with medication or increased social interaction.

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Discussion Comments
By anon996197 — On Jul 23, 2016

It has affected my everyday life and I've lost jobs. I just learned about this new condition. I've had a lifelong feeling things weren't right or "normal" for me. This is the reason for all the suicidal thoughts I've ever had. Please refer me to safe rehab or support sites from real life experienced people. No doctors, just the truth and support I've always craved. God bless all sufferers and any help would be greatly appreciated appreciated. Misunderstood in FL.

By anon989442 — On Mar 06, 2015

How do you respond to an article like this? "Thanks for pushing me in the gut, may I have another?" It's not easy being socially retarded, while at the same time being cognitively intelligent. Everything may seem normal to me; it's just that the rest of the world is a "half a bubble off" and I can't adapt accordingly without seeing what appears as obvious social cues to others.

And yes, to another commenter, we are better off in some ways. One way is that we can see the demise of humanity via its own hubris. It's more of a cure than a gift. Another is that we may understand the political irony in Star Wars when the monarchy rescues democracy from the tyranny of a descent into totalitarianism. (If you understood this, welcome to the club.)

By Logicfest — On Jan 27, 2014

Reminds me of Brick from "The Middle." Brick, see, is an intelligent kid who is terrible at social interaction. I've known a good number of people like that over the years and a good number of them do well in careers where they can be creative, use their intelligence and not deal with the social interaction that is par for the course in an office.

In some ways, they may be better off...

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