Terminology and stigmatization, intended and unintended
The title of this chapter, intellectual disability, is the new name for this disorder in DSM-5. It was known as mental retardation in DSM-IV. The change reflects contemporary usage by experts on intellectual disability, who consider the previous term, “mental retardation,” as highly stigmatizing. The term and its derivative “retard” have come to be used as pejorative, as is the case for the previous terms “feeble-minded,” “idiot,” “imbecile” and “moron,” which were used by psychologists and physicians without any intent to offend several decades ago (Schalock et al., 2007; Switzky and Greenspan, 2006). There is nothing inherently pejorative in the term “mental retardation,” which in itself signifies no more than that the individual’s intellectual development is delayed in comparison to the development of other people; this is indeed true for this segment of the population. Certainly, the professionals who used that term in their research and clinical writing intended no other meaning, including, for example, those who contributed articles to what was called until very recently the American Journal on Mental Retardation. However, as language evolved, the word “retard” came to be used pejoratively in daily speech. A recent survey of over 1,000 US youth ranging in age from 8 to 18 years revealed that 92 percent of respondents had heard the “r-word” used in a negative way. Only about a third of these respondents were fully aware of its meaning (Siperstein, Pociask and Collins, 2010). Although the same word seems not to be used as extensively as an epithet in the UK, BBC News Magazine reported in 2008 that other pejorative words are (Rohrer, 2008). Hopefully, the new term “intellectual disability” will not acquire a pejorative connotation over time, perhaps because of its grammatical structure and inherent meaning.