Can we stop saying retarded yet?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Aug. 12 2009 6:51 PM

Can We Stop Saying Retarded Yet?

Yes, it's "intellectually disabled."

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, died Tuesday morning at the age of 88. A number of articles made note of her work on behalf of the "mentally retarded" or in preventing "mental retardation." Is it still OK to use the word retarded?

Not really. The current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—which is used by psychiatrists to make clinical diagnoses—still employs the phrase mental retardation to describe people who score below about a 70 on IQ tests. However, most who work in the field—including psychologists, activists, and bureaucrats—prefer the term intellectual disability. (The next revision of the diagnostic manual, due out in 2012, may update its language accordingly.)

Advertisement

Intellectual disability has become the preferred nomenclature only in the past few years, so it's understandable that some newspapers are still using mental retardation. (Even disability experts were uncertain as to the status of the "R-word" until at least 2001.) The nation's most venerable organization of professionals concerned with ID used to be called the American Association on Mental Retardation but renamed itself the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities at the beginning of 2007. Still, the association's Web site contains numerous references to "mental retardation"—a fact its executive director attributes to "housekeeping" issues. The American Psychological Association has moved a little faster, subbing out "Mental Retardation" from the name of its "Division on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities" in 2006. The academic journal Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews updated its name just last year.

Government offices have also been moving away from mental retardation. In the past two months, six state agencies in charge of helping those with developmental and intellectual disabilities have dropped it from their names.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Doreen Croser of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Sandy Root-Elledge of the Wyoming Institute for Disabilities, and Richard Rowley of the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

Adrian Chen is a freelance writer and an editor at The New Inquiry.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

It’s Fine to Use Facebook to Serve People With Legal Papers, Court Rules

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?