As a Special Education teacher and advocate, I was elated to hear a change in terminology from “Mentally Retarded” to “Cognitive Disability” as federal mandate for terminology.
It is our job as advocates to help eliminate ignorance on this matter by arming people with the correct information. As an advocacy group, I hope that you take to this sensitive matter as closely as I have. Please be aware of the sensitivity of this mistake in your articles.
A special education teacher and advocate who felt passionately about the need to eliminate offensive words wrote to object to our use of the term “retarded” on a page about Progress Monitoring.
We agree about offensive words – up to a point.
If you go to our Facebook page and look at the “Likes” on the left side of the page, you will see that “Spread the Word to End the Word” is in our first five “Likes.” Search the 2010 posts on FB for the update we posted in 2010 about “Rosa’s Law.”
Rosa’s Law PUBLIC LAW 111–256—OCT. 5, 2010
This teacher’s comment was posted in response to an issue of the Special Ed Advocate newsletter that featured articles on RtI, specific learning disabilities, and progress monitoring, not disability names or legal definitions of disabilities.
*Our readers need to know what the law says, not what we want the law to say or what the law may say in the future.*
When we use the term “mental retardation” or “retarded,” we do so because these words are in the text of the federal law. To change the text when Congress has not changed the text of a law would mislead readers who rely on us to provide accurate information.
The legal definition of “Child with a Disability” is:
(3) Child With A Disability.
(A) In General. The term ‘child with a disability’ means a child–
(i) with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments,
‘emotional disturbance’), orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments,
or specific learning disabilities; and
(ii) who, by reason thereof needs special education and related services. 20 U.S.C. 1401(3)(A)
The legal definition of “Specific Learning Disability” in 20 U.S.C. 1401(30) includes the following:
(C) Disorders not included. Such term does not include a learning problem that is primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.
In “Determining the existence of a specific learning disability,” the law includes the term “mental retardation.” 34 CFR 300.309(a)(3).
We cannot change the words in a law. We expect that Congress will change these terms in the IDEA when the law is reauthorized.
Looking to the US Department of Education for Guidance
After reading this complaint, I decided to see how the US Department of Education is handling the change.
In Reports to Congress, communications with state DOEs re: grants, and other documents, the USDOE continues to use “mental retardation.”
You may want to go to the website for the US Department of Education – www.ed.gov and type “mental retardation” into the search box. I assume the USDOE continues to use the term for the same reason we do – because this is what the law says.
Some states changed their state statutes and are using the terms “Intellectual disability” or “Cognitive disability.”
*Update – August 2017. Summary: Rosa’s Law changes references to “mental retardation” in Federal law to “intellectual disability” or “intellectual disabilities.” These final regulations implement this statutory change in applicable Department of Education regulations. Final regulations effective August 10, 2017.
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