Saturday, February 6, 2010

The word "retarded"

Recently, it has been pointed out that it is politically incorrect to use the word "retarded" to describe the "intellectually disabled," in the same way that it became insensitive to call people with Down Syndrome "mongoloids." Mentally retardation is a diagnostic term that describes an impairment of cognitive and social functioning. The disorder spans from mild to profound, based on intelligence quotient. Early IQ tests used even more pejorative terms: "moron" (score of 50-69), "imbecile" (score of 20-49), and "idiot" (score less than 20). The scale used by American psychologist Lewis Terman (1877-1956) designated anyone with an IQ below 70 as "feeble-minded." American psychologist David Wechsler (1896-1981) classified anyone with an IQ below 65 as "defective."

Similarly, what used to be called "lunatic asylums" are now termed "psychiatric hospitals" - when they are still in use. Abandoned words conjure yesterday's treatment of those with significantly below-average cognitive ability. And abandoned mental institutions make for eerie photos, as evidenced by this sampling of sites and slideshows:
So, think twice before calling someone a "retard" or suggesting that they "ride the short bus."

1 comment:

  1. As the mom of a child with special needs I thank you for reminding people about how hurtful the word retard is. Sadly, unless you have a family member with special needs you just don't get what we're saying. Glad you did.


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