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Mental Retardation Is No More—New Name Is Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Mar 2, 2007
February 20, 2007 Anna Prabhala
202.387.1968, Ext. 203

Mental Retardation Is No More—New Name Is Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Name change reflects society's efforts to appropriately address people with cognitive disabilities

Washington, DC (February 20, 2007)—After almost 5 decades of being called Mental Retardation, this influential journal in special education changed names to Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities under the leadership of Editor Steven J. Taylor. The journal's name change is a microcosm of society's ongoing struggle to find a socially acceptable way of addressing persons with an intellectual disability. The new name comes close on the heels of the name change of its publisher, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, formerly AAMR, the world's oldest organization representing professionals in developmental disabilities.

For all those who ask, "What's in a name?" Dr. Taylor says, "The term intellectual and developmental disabilities is simply less stigmatizing than mental retardation, mental deficiency, feeble-mindedness, idiocy, imbecility, and other terminology we have cast aside over the years." However, Taylor acknowledges that the crux of the issue here goes beyond language and terminology into the deeper issues of inclusion and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities in society. He explains, "Anyone who believes that we have finally arrived at the perfect terminology will be proven wrong by history. I am sure that at some future point we will find the phrase intellectual and developmental disabilities to be inadequate and demeaning."

Vice-president of AAIDD, Steve Eidelman, like many other experts, goes a step further and calls for a public education campaign to foster more positive attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities. In an article published in a past issue of IDD, he said, "Changing the term (mental retardation) will make many people happy. That happiness will quickly fade when the new term is used as a pejorative. Without a long-term effort to include everyone and to educate those with negative or neutral attitudes toward our constituents, a change in terminology will become the new pejorative very quickly." Eidelman's comments were made in the midst of a debate on the name change of AAMR to its current day name, AAIDD.

Founded in 1963, Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities quickly became the leading journal for research and opinion on practical issues faced by professionals working with people who have cognitive disabilities. The tagline of "Journal of Policy, Practice, and Perspectives" reflects the unique editorial role of IDD in the field of developmental disabilities. The journal is noteworthy for Perspectives, a selection of articles hand-picked by the editor to reflect voices not usually represented in empirical research. Also, the column Trends & Milestones contains ready-to-use, quantitative data for researchers and policymakers on pressing issues such as public funding of disability programs and the decline of population in state institutions over the past several decades.

Over the years, Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities has shaped public consensus in the disability field by featuring rigorous debates on contentious topics. A series of articles in the late 1990s on the mortality of people living in institutions dispelled the commonly held belief that the community was unsafe for people with intellectual disabilities. More recently, IDD featured studies on how family contact and consumer-directed supports had better economic, health, and social outcomes on lives of people with developmental disabilities as opposed to being confined to institutions. Arguably, among the most memorable are the impassioned articles by Robert Perske, a tireless advocate for people with intellectual disabilities in the criminal justice system. The powerful prose of Perske is reflected in articles such as, "We Believe Richard Lapointe Did Not Kill Bernice Martin," "Search for Persons With Intellectual Disabilities Who Confessed to Serious Crimes They Did Not Commit," and "Deception in the Interrogation Room."

Readers of IDD welcomed the name change:

"I think the new masthead on one of the most widely read and influential journals in our field will play an important role in promoting wider adoption of new, less offending terminologies," says Charlie Lakin, a noted researcher at the University of Minnesota.

"It is heartening to anticipate the first issue of the journal flying under a new flag—IDD. The journal ... has recently extended its sweep to capture new knowledge across an array of topics: therapies, statistical data, the history of intellectual disabilities, ideas from the interdisciplinary field of disability studies and more ...becoming more global in scope. Long may it flourish," says Patricia Noonan Walsh, Professor at the Centre for Disability Studies in Ireland.

Click here to read a list of articles in the current issue of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities.
Click here for subscription information or call (785)-843-1235.

Founded in 1876, AAIDD promotes progressive policies, sound research, effective practices, and universal human rights for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. To learn about AAIDD, visit

American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
444 North Capitol Street NW Suite 846, Washington, D.C. 20001-1512
Tel (202)387-1968 | Fax (202)387-2193 |