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Rosa's Law - Using Intellectual Disability Instead of Mental Retardation

  • Published: 2010-02-04 (Revised/Updated 2018-01-25) : Author: American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
  • Synopsis: Rosa's Law - Replacing pejorative label of mental retardation with the more respectful terminology of intellectual disability.

Quote: "We understand that people with intellectual disabilities face enough challenges every day that they don't need to deal with a pejorative label."

Main Document

Groundbreaking Best Practices Manual from Major Professional Association Replaces "Mental Retardation" with New Term "Intellectual Disability"...

Publication of Intellectual Disability from the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities coincides with the introduction of new federal legislation by U.S. Senators Mikulski and Enzi called Rosa's Law.

Society's labels have consequences. But no label damages more than being called "mentally retarded". Two pivotal developments in the disability world seek the common goal of replacing the pejorative label of "mental retardation" with the more respectful terminology of "intellectual disability": The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) publishes the 11th edition of its "Definition Manual", renaming it Intellectual Disability: Definition, Classification, and Systems of Supports. In it, the association presents a progressive system of defining and diagnosing intellectual disability as a condition that can be enhanced by providing appropriate supports, rather than a static life-long trait. Close on its heels comes Rosa's Law, a bill recently introduced by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Michael B. Enzi (R-WY) to eliminate the terms "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" from the U.S. federal law books.

"We understand that people with intellectual disabilities face enough challenges every day that they don't need to deal with a pejorative label. And as medical, educational, and legal professionals, we know that intellectual disability is far more complex than a low score on an IQ test," said AAIDD president Joanna Pierson.

Intellectual Disability presents an advanced model of defining and diagnosing intellectual disability that includes a combination of IQ, age of onset, and adaptive skills of a person. Rather than look at deficits, the AAIDD system is based on evaluating the supports someone needs in life to reduce the mismatch between the person's capabilities and skills. That way, every person is able to participate in all aspects of life in society, whether it's riding the bus or playing with children.

Rosa's Law and Intellectual Disability share the same spirit of "passion for social justice and compassion for the human condition" as Senator Mikulski puts it. "Rosa's Law represents a critical step forward in ending societal discrimination and it will help create a path toward full inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in our country," said Doreen Croser, Executive Director of AAIDD. "Furthermore, the bill is particularly timely as the new AAIDD Definition Manual provides essential information on intellectual disability for policy makers and for professionals."

The 11th edition of Intellectual Disability is an invaluable resource for many professionals, including:

Physicians to diagnose a child or an adult Teachers and school psychologists to determine special education services and eligibility University professors and students as a key reference in health and medicine Lawyers and public defenders in the criminal justice system while handling cases involving people with intellectual disabilities

The 11th edition of Intellectual Disability is written over by a committee of 18 experts based on seven years of work synthesizing current scientific information and best practices as well as critiques of the previous edition. To listen to interviews with authors, read FAQs, and purchase Intellectual Disability,

Founded in 1876, AAIDD promotes progressive policies, sound research, effective practices and universal human rights for people with intellectual disabilities. Learn more at


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