Proper usage and Terms
“Intellectual Disabilities”

We were once refered to as QMRP's (Qualified Mental Retardation Professional) and now through change in the law and in just general practice we are called QIDP (Qualified Intellectual Disabilities Professional).

Intellectual Disability has replaced Mentally Retarded and retarded,words and phrases that conjure up intense, negative emotional charged responses and are viewed as being extremely derogatory in nature and often as not used in an insulting manner towards just that end.

Yet the term “Mental retardation” (MR) when used appropriately is an appropriate diagnosis of a person’s cognitive functioning level. Formal MR Levels range from: Profound to Severe, Moderate, Mild, and Borderline.

Diagnostically, MR is a potent word, which at one time provided for services from Regional Center, without cost. Regional Center provides for each client the service coordinator, allocates and requests residential living placement and day programs, and other services all of which are gratis, based on this diagnosis. The diagnosis of MR also provides for Social Security Disability monies (SSI) and medical services. Furthermore, a person who obtains the diagnosis can receive special treatment if adversely involved in the legal system. People who have MR are less responsible for their actions because they may not know what they are doing.

The true stigma associated with the words “Mental Retarded” is the immediate impression that comes into people’s minds when the word is used.

It is by far easier to say that a person has “Intellectual Disabilities” (DD) instead of MR. DD is a softer, gentler term that is often used when describing someone who has MR in his/her diagnosis. DD also refers to a range of disabilities stemming from one of many possible forms of developmental delay that have become evident enough by the time the individual turned 18 years old.

Most people would, by far, rather use the words Intellectual Disabled than Mentally Retarded when referring to an individual with any of the included conditions because it is more appropriate in polite conversation. Even in professional/medical circles where MR level is important for allocating services to an individual, the term DD is much preferred when talking about someone.
Other kinder, gentler words are handicapped and disabled. These words are even further from the actual descriptive words MR, but are still easier to say in public areas. Face it, no one wants to be called what could be considered derogatory names. Unfortunately our language is so limited and limiting. The words MR, DD, handicapped, and disabled are all self limiting words. And yes, words can hurt beyond what a person might think, particularly to the individuals affected and their loved ones. Perhaps, these words need to be kept in strict context to the situation. Regional Center prefers the term Intellectually Disabled and so do I. The term Intellectually Disabilities should be reserved for only those times when MR level is to be considered for services.

Then, what do we say? It often depends on a personal point of view or relationship to the person with MR as to what words are best for the situation. When talking as a professional to individuals and family members, I prefer to avoid any excess usage of labels at all. In my experience I have been most comfortable talking about what a person can do or could do, given time, resources and training. I personally have seen individuals grow and develop cognitively far beyond the labels they were once given.

All people learn and grow throughout their lives. No matter what age or intelligence level, each of us continues to bring knowledge into our minds, filled with new ideas and increasing information. And in turn we contribute and participate more than we could ever do before. For example not so long ago, hardly anyone understood how to use computers or was able to surf the net. Now it is common place. As we learn and grow, so does the population of individuals we serve and learn with.