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This is not about a new discovery in genetics or treatment.   In fact it has nothing to do with scientific research at all.  This will happen by the action of the United States Congress, if the bill being marked up in committee is approved as is predicted.  Here's the article that describes it, from The Hill.

Bipartisan Senate bill aims to take 'retarded' out of federal lexicon

I would doubt that there are many here who would oppose sparing any child, or any adult, from mean spirited insults of others.  And we feel that most strongly for those who are most vulnerable, those who have the most debilitating conditions.  Yet, there is a cost to this attempt to simply abolish any word that has become a vehicle for such cruelty.

The use of euphemisms, words that soften a harsh reality, is something that I am a great fan of.   This is why I preferred to be referred to as a "vital mature person with passionately expressed ideas", rather than an "old opinionated blowhard."  

Let me give a little history of the phrase "mental retardation" which this committee wants to banish.   My first exposure to this subject was my introductory psychology course in 1958.  The textbook taught the students the accepted terminology, the three descriptors that universally accepted in that era, that I will pick up from the Wikipedia Article (an excellent source of this discussion which I will reference again)

Idiot indicated the greatest degree of intellectual disability, where the mental age is two years or less, and the person cannot guard himself or herself against common physical dangers. The term was gradually replaced by the term profound mental retardation.

Imbecile indicated an intellectual disability less extreme than idiocy and not necessarily inherited. It is now usually subdivided into two categories, known as severe mental retardation and moderate mental retardation.

Moron was defined by the American Association for the Study of the Feeble-minded in 1910, following work by Henry H. Goddard, as the term for an adult with a mental age between eight and twelve; mild mental retardation is now the term for this condition. Alternative definitions of these terms based on IQ were also used. This group was known in UK law from 1911 to 1959/60 as "feeble-minded".

"Mental Retardation" was the replacement for these terms, meant to do exactly what the new term is expected to do.  Actually, what is rarely discussed is that the replacement term, the one that Congress is considering mandating in all laws and regulations, including existing ones, is not simply a new word, but a different categorization of etiologies of various causations.

Once again as well described in the Wikipedia article:

The term "mental retardation" is a diagnostic term denoting the group of disconnected categories of mental functioning such as "idiot", "imbecile", and "moron" derived from early IQ tests, which acquired pejorative  connotations in popular discourse.

The term "mental retardation" acquired pejorative and shameful connotations over the last few decades due to the use of "retarded" as an insult. This may have contributed to its replacement with euphemisms such as "mentally challenged" or "intellectual disability".


   * In North America mental retardation is subsumed into the broader term developmental disability, which also includes epilepsy, autism, cerebral palsy and other disorders that develop during the developmental period (birth to age 18.)

Because service provision is tied to the designation developmental disability, it is used by many parents, direct support professionals, and physicians. In the United States, however, in school-based settings, the more specific term mental retardation is still typically used, and is one of 13 categories of disability under which children may be identified for special education services under Public Law 108-446.
    * The phrase intellectual disability is increasingly being used as a synonym for people with significantly below-average cognitive ability. These terms are sometimes used as a means of separating general intellectual limitations from specific, limited deficits as well as indicating that it is not an emotional or psychological disability.

So, while the bill being contemplated assumes that the two phrases are synonymous, they are not.

Intellectual Disability may also used to describe the outcome of traumatic brain injury or lead poisoning or dementing conditions such as Alzheimer's disease. It is not specific to congenital disorders such as Down syndrome.

Alzheimer's Disease, the symptoms of which are now being described as Senile Dementia, was not included under "mental retardation" but is in "intellectual disability."  Rubrics, or categories, evolve based on the science and the Zeitgeist of the culture.  They organize thinking, laws and emotional responses to various objects.

I'm an atheist.  I sometimes call myself a "secularist" to defray confrontation, but I'm actually an atheist, a-theist, one without a belief in God.  The word is accurate, although it, for most Americans, is also pejorative.

Those afflicted with mental retardation are those who have either a congenital or genetic condition that inhibits intellectual attainment. These conditions have little to do with the study of those who lose mental capacity due to a stroke, senility or trauma, and should not be aggregated based on a desire to lessen emotional pain.  Especially, since history shows that those with the desire to inflict such insults will do so under the new terminology.

PC, or political correctness, while seen as beneficent, has other aspects.  It can cause confusion and obfuscation, and at times be absurd.  Once pejorative usage is accepted as justification for changes in terminology we have opened the door to actually debasing our language, sacrificing historical context and precision in this futile attempt.  

"Capitalist Pig" has a nasty tone to it.  One way to stop such insults is to simply not use the word "Capitalism" to describe the economic system, to eliminate it from the educational material of children.  "Free Enterprise Pig" doesn't have the same sting does it?  Well, this is the justification for the Texas State School Board for eliminating that nasty word "Capitalism" from all course material.

I would love to see mental retardation, along with all developmental diseases eliminated from the world, but this is not the way to do it.  And if we are going to talk about "mental disability" lets save the term for the most widespread cause of it, the decline of intellectual activity, of stimulating productive discussion of the issue of the day, which only can occur when we have a common set of words to discuss them.

"Mental Retardation" is defined as such by Merriam-Websters

Date: 1914

: subaverage intellectual ability equivalent to or less than an IQ of 70 that is accompanied by significant deficits in abilities (as in communication or self-care) necessary for independent daily functioning, is present from birth or infancy, and is manifested especially by delayed or abnormal development, by learning difficulties, and by problems in social adjustment  

Originally posted to ARODB on Tue May 25, 2010 at 07:57 PM PDT.


Mental Retardation v. Intellectual Disability

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| 86 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  The thorny issue is.... (5+ / 0-)

    ...mental retardation still has a precise, technical, clinical meaning to it, even if it's misused and misunderstood by the public at large. I don't know if this is really a case of PCness, but terms of art do change, and the important thing is to not hobble our technical vocabulary.

    Developmental Disability and Intellectual Disability are the better terms, however, in the way that the general public use them.

    Some people are intolerant, and I CAN'T STAND people like that. -- Tom Lehrer

    by TheCrank on Tue May 25, 2010 at 08:01:51 PM PDT

    •  The two are quite different... (6+ / 0-)

      Developmental disability need not be cognitive, such as dwarfism, or it's opposite, that causes extreme growth.

      Intellectual disability, even in the professional terminology includes trauma, a very different area of research with minimal overlap.   And in common parlance ID could be based on nutrition or lack of intellectual stimulation.

      Mental Retardation is a rubric that has medical, biological and legal meanings, developed over time.  If there were a distortion based on scientific discovery, such as the changes in the Linnius species terminology being changed based on knowledge of genetic code, I'd be all for it.

      But that doesn't seem to be the case here.  

      •  The DSM is going to be changed this way too, (0+ / 0-)

        no more mental retardation but mental disability as the term instead like the law you outlined. Looks like the law is designed to mirror that. I'm not sure I think that is bad-- there are some good reasonings for this.

        The Great Recession is a happy happy joy joy time to drop your obsolete skills and train for new ones.

        by doinaheckuvanutjob on Tue May 25, 2010 at 10:40:23 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I am finding it hard to adapt..... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          AntKat, Carol in San Antonio

          because it seems very PC to me.  Lots of rework of books, websites etc. to avoid hurting feelings because people in schools can't stop bullying.  How long until the new "term of art" results in bullying?

          You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad. Aldous Huxley

          by murrayewv on Wed May 26, 2010 at 03:15:20 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  36 Years in the Field (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            doinaheckuvanutjob, arodb

            ... working with what we have called "developmental disabilities" in New York State, a blanket term for mental retardation, epilepsy, autism spectrum disorders, Fragile X, Down, and several other diagnoses. I can't tell you how many politically-correct fad terms we have experimented with and promoted. Regardless, other than the now always in he news autistic spectrum disorders, the only term I find that the general public understands is "mental retardation," which seems to translate as "they're a little slow."

            The Personal is Political

            by Uthaclena on Wed May 26, 2010 at 06:43:45 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  I'm not sure if it's PC or research based-- the (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            new DSM will have an explanation for the new designation, and that explanation will say if it is quest for destigmatizing or if it is based on research indicating the new term is more 'accurate'. I'm withholding judgment on the matter until I see the explanations from mental health and medical experts. I understand the valid concerns though, as well as those of family of mentally disabled who don't like their loved ones stigmatized by labels.

            The Great Recession is a happy happy joy joy time to drop your obsolete skills and train for new ones.

            by doinaheckuvanutjob on Wed May 26, 2010 at 02:15:35 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I understand the Republican incentive... (17+ / 0-) remove the stigma from having below-normal intellectual ability.

    This machine makes fascists feel bad. (Meteor Blades-approved version)

    by Rich in PA on Tue May 25, 2010 at 08:02:24 PM PDT

  •  seems that it was the pc term of its time (0+ / 0-)

    So it is itself phased out for the new generation of terminology. Language changes, what's the big deal?  But as somebody who still on occasion uses the term retarded in common parlance, it's going to take some time.

    This is all in the minds of the participants. - Gen. McChrystal (powerful Afghan warlord)

    by Marcion on Tue May 25, 2010 at 08:02:59 PM PDT

    •  the big deal is that (0+ / 0-)

      not only did the old words not go away "idiot, moron, Imbecile" but we just keep adding more terms which in time can be used to hurt others. And more so the adding of the new words isn't something that happened naturally as part of our language or culture but something that was unnatural and forced to alleviate what someone considered a social injustice. Political Correctness i think breaks languages. I remember the first time i said black and it offended a black person... from her reaction you would have thought i just said the N-word. I think African-American is the new PC term now... but i really don't give a flying fuck. If i'm white then they can be black and everyone can go fly a kite real high.

  •  MR has been referred as ID for at least the last (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pandoras Box

    two years in the speech-language pathology literature.

    That change happened along with calling white/Caucasian kids European American.

  •  i was hoping this would be about (2+ / 0-)

    the deportation of glenn beck and sarah palin.

  •  Interesting discussion (8+ / 0-)

    I`m troubled by how these terms seem to arrive in a well intentioned way of describing these conditions, but over time they come to be seen as pejorative.

    The problem it seems, is not the terms, but in ourselves, since the terms keep getting "polluted" it probably has to do with how the terms are used, that they get associated with negativity.

    Help build the Progressive Governing Majority at Open Left

    by Scientician on Tue May 25, 2010 at 08:07:24 PM PDT

  •  Whew, dodged a bullet (4+ / 0-)

    Thought Rahm had announced the final roundup of the libruls.

    We who have been nothing shall be all. This is the final struggle. ~E. Pottier

    by ActivistGuy on Tue May 25, 2010 at 08:08:41 PM PDT

  •  I found this very interesting but what (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Calamity Jean

    is Rahm to call the screamers at the far left side of the blogisphere?

    Sorry coulnd't help myself, back to reading your excellent diary.

    "Don't fall or we both go" Derek Hersey

    by ban nock on Tue May 25, 2010 at 08:09:41 PM PDT

  •  Can't resist the opportunity to (0+ / 0-)

    link to a comedy routine by the late Dennis Wolfberg:

    Barack Obama in the Oval Office: There's a black man who knows his place.

    by Greasy Grant on Tue May 25, 2010 at 08:12:10 PM PDT

  •  One thing I thought odd about this essay (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    was that two-third of the way down there is this complete non sequitur paragraph:

    I'm an atheist.  I sometimes call myself a "secularist" to defray confrontation, but I'm actually an atheist, a-theist, one without a belief in God.  The word is accurate, although it, for most Americans, is also pejorative.

    Good for you, although I think you're in error. But what does that have to do with the rest of the essay?

    This is not an attack, but a sincere question. I was thrown off by that, and can't understand why you added that.

    Send BP and Halliburton to prison!

    by Timaeus on Tue May 25, 2010 at 08:12:27 PM PDT

  •  Somewhat off topic, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    happymisanthropy, m4gill4

    but if you've ever read the U.S. Code starting at the beginning, you know that it starts right off, in Title 1, Chapter 1, Section 1, with

    the words "insane" and "insane person" and "lunatic" shall include every idiot, lunatic, insane person, and person non compos mentis;

    So every idiot at dKos, no offense, but you and me alike, is insane.

    •  It seem like an acknowledgement of the (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Garrett, worldlotus

      changes in descriptions.  But none of this occurred by federal law.  

      We now have a specific term, paranoid schizophrenic, which includes many of the earlier terms.

      If the Intellectually Disabled was an improvement I would have no objections, but this new term is not based no new research.  Our knowledge of specific diseases in many ways supersedes either term.

  •  Just Out Of Curiosity..... (3+ / 0-)

    I wonder how much it will cost to go through & remove all references? I also wonder if the use of "disability" or "disabled" will hold as the proper terminology, or one day be viewed as un-PC as the words their meant to replace?

    "Handicapped" was once seen as more optimal, until it was deemed to have an offensive connotation. And I believe some find it insensitive to denote someone "Intellectually Disabled" as opposed to a "Person with an Intellectual Disability".

    •  It seems to be inevitable (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rimjob, arodb, Carol in San Antonio

      that we will be continually renaming certain things. It would be nice if the new names were at least as clear and accurate as the old ones. Personally I think it's about time to retire "African-American". Why do we use a geographic term to describe someone's race - are there are no white Africans? A friend of mine called Linford Christie an African-American. She knew he was British, but used the word whose meaning is really "black". Someone remind me why we started doing this.

      It is even harder for the average ape to believe that he has descended from man. --H.L. Mencken

      by denise b on Tue May 25, 2010 at 10:03:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have heard the phrase cognitive disabilities (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sacrelicious, m4gill4, worldlotus

    Used by special ed activists (like Access Living).

    I would suppose I would prefer for Congress to defer to the new terminology in the upcoming DSM for verbiage regarding such.

  •  Republicans are going on vacation (0+ / 0-)

    ...out of the country, you mean, and we'll ask for their papers when they try to return?

    So they have to stay there?

    "Certainly the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you; if you don't bet, you can't win." Lazarus Long

    by rfall on Tue May 25, 2010 at 08:30:16 PM PDT

  •  Not sure when retarded became (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    political incorrect.  It never seemed like a bad word when describing some that actually had a mental disability, but whatever.  Now I can call my sister a retard when she does something stupid and not feel bad.  Do people actually think the word and it's popular use will disappear? If they do then they are a intellectually disabled.  

    Eat recycled food. It's good for the environment and OK for you.

    by thestructureguy on Tue May 25, 2010 at 08:33:17 PM PDT

  •  The map is not the territory. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    denise b, arodb, Carol in San Antonio

    There will be new (and in my view, ridiculous) euphemisms in the future. This is because, while you cannot change the territory, earnest people think changing the map has some effect in doing just that.

    So while there are those who give it to the likes of me for calling a GOP Senator a "retard", we can rest assured that in the future, their opprobrium will be directed at the use of "syndef" (synaptically deficient) or "LoNeurCon" or whatever is the term of the day.

    BTW, I prefer the classic "cretin". As did the Ramones.

  •  As a parent of a child diagnosed with "MR" (0+ / 0-)

    I can see why they would do this.

    All treatment of children with learning differences (ie, autism spectrum, general delays, Downs/Edwards syndrome, cerebral palsy, etc) is pretty generic: you focus on speech, physical and occupational therapies as much as you can (including at home), and hope for the best.

    Given the existing pejoratives related with MR (ie, retard, 'tard, mental, etc), this is an easy out for legislators.

    The special ed groups have already moved on to other terminology, so I don't see why keeping the term tied to existing pejoratives out.

    I actually see this not changing popular lexicon as much (people will still call my child a "retard") but it will keep that negative connotation distanced a bit from the school and government staff.

    Make sure everyone's vote counts: Verified Voting

    by sacrelicious on Tue May 25, 2010 at 10:12:12 PM PDT

    •  Anyone who calls a child a "retard"... (0+ / 0-)

      is an insensitive SOB for hurting the child and those who love him or her.

      We have many words for attractiveness, from "ugly" to "plain."  The point of this diary is mean spirited ignorance can't be legislated away, and it's a waste of resources to try.

  •  Negative connotations. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    arodb, Carol in San Antonio, mdmslle

    Those words (Idiot, Imbecile, and Moron) used to be accepted clinical terminology. But over time those words developed negative connotations and were deemed "politically incorrect". Now the same thing has happened to "Retarded". Even if they came up with an accurate, more politically correct, term for retarded, it would eventually develop negative connotations of its own.
    It’s like "illegal alien". That’s not cool anymore (negative connotations) so now people started saying "illegal immigrant", but that's not really accurate because immigration is a legal practice, as opposed to invasion which is not. But "illegal immigrant" has now become un-cool with a lot of people, who prefer "undocumented worker", which is more accurate than "illegal immigrant", but not as accurate "illegal alien".
    Also, with the case of African Americans, Negro (i.e. United Negro College Fund) was once accepted terminology. That became unfashionable, so everybody started using the term "Colored People" (i.e. N.A.A.*C.P.*), next was "Black", which is still widely accepted, but the most politically correct terminology is "African-American, which originally meant someone who was born in Africa, then moved to the US. I’m not sure we still have an exclusive term for someone who was born in Africa, then moved to the US.
    This is why we need to find ACCURATE TERMINOLOGY and STICK WITH IT. We often sacrifice accuracy for political correctness.

  •  Those are the same definitions I learned. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    arodb, Carol in San Antonio, mdmslle

    In professional circles, "mentally retarded" is still a diagnosis, not a pejorative word. The euphemisms are fine for everyday talk, I suppose, but they really don't fit for diagnosis.

    It's raining, it's pouring, The BP guys were snoring, Gas bumped their well and it went to hell, And then blew off its mooring...

    by SciMathGuy on Wed May 26, 2010 at 03:59:19 AM PDT

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