Mental Retardation

Mental Retardation: Update 2002

    The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC)
    The Council for Exceptional Children
    1110 N. Glebe Rd.
    Arlington, VA 22201-5704
    Toll Free: 1.800.328.0272
    ERIC EC Digest #E637
    Author: Jack Hourcade
    November 2002
    Overview and Definition
    Mental retardation is a complex phenomenon, and fundamental beliefs about it regularly change over time. Mainstream professional thought today conceptualizes it as a statement about an individual's present level of functioning, with two primary features:
        • Limitations in intelligence
        • Limitations in adaptive behavior.
    The American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR), arguably the leading professional organization in the field of mental retardation, offered the following definition of mental retardation in 2002 in its 10th edition of the AAMR reference manual on definition and terminology (Luckasson, Borthwick-Duffy, Buntinx, Coulter, Craig, Reeve, et al.):
          Mental retardation is a disability characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills.
          This disability originates before age 18.
    This definition has been widely adopted. It forms the basis for the definition included in IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990.
    Intelligence may be thought of as one's overall mental ability, one's capacity to problem-solve and learn. Assessment of intellectual functioning has remained controversial for over a century, ever since Alfred Binet developed the first version of what has come to be known as IQ tests. These tests typically include a range of items that assess one's general...