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"Mental Retardation" becomes "Intellectual Disability"

There are thirteen criteria categories that students may be found eligible for special education services and supports under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). One of the thirteen, "Mental Retardation," recently became known as "Intellectual Disability." This criteria is used for students that present sub-average intellectual functioning.

On October 6, 2010, President Obama signed Rosa's Law. This law, titled after a young girl with Down Syndrome named "Rosa," mandated that all federal laws using the term Mental Retardation replace it with Intellectual Disability. This law touched varying areas of legislation including health, labor and of course, education.

Some questioned the significance of this change, but it probably can best be understood in a quote from Rosa's brother who said, "What you call people is how you treat them. If we change the words, maybe it will be the start of a new attitude towards people with disabilities." (White House Press Release October 8, 2010).

Special education law has started to see the impact this small change has made. Even though school districts have been slow to implement the new terminology, those that have, have had a more positive response from parents, specifically when eligibility criteria is an issue. We have seen parents more willing to have their child designated under Intellectual Disability now versus when it had been Mental Retardation. By simply changing the language, Rosa's Law has taken the stigma out of what it means to have sub-average intellectual functioning.

As more school districts begin to replace the old term, there will not only be more positive responses from parents, but also increasingly less cases of students being ostracized or teased. Rosa's law has proved to be a positive change to federal education law and an important step towards invoking more positive responses to disability terms and students with disabilities.

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Augustin Egelsee L.L.P.
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Toll Free: 866-781-7723
Phone: 714-602-1498
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