Part II: Myths About Intellectual Disabilities

1. MYTH: Intellectual Disability is different from Mental Retardation

“Intellectual Disability” or IDDs (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) is the preferred term for the more outdated term, “Mental Retardation. ”[1]

In 2010, Rosa’s Law was passed. This required the federal government to replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” from all federal health, education, and labor policy.[2]

However, some states still use the term “mental retardation” [3] and some programs, including the NY program my brother attends, continue to use the outdated terminology.[4]

Prior to my own research, I had no idea it was labelled outdated because it is still used by doctors and developmental disability center staff to this day.

It may take time for the appropriate term, Intellectual Disability, to catch on, but you can help by passing on this information. ←

2) MYTH: Intellectual Disabilities only affect minorities and impoverished countries.

Developmental Disabilities, which include intellectual disabilities, affect all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. The condition can be found anywhere in the world. [5]

3) MYTH: Intellectual disabilities are all caused by [__?__]:

In most cases, the cause of an intellectual disability is unknown.

According to the Center of Disease Control, “it can be caused by injury, disease,”[6] or trauma to the developing brain before, during, or after birth (i.e. anytime before the individual turns 18).

Doctors have found a specific cause in only 25% of cases, and some of the known causes include (but are not limited to)[7]:

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3 Myths about Intellectual Disabilities (formerly known as “Mental Retardation”) Pt. 1

People with an intellectual disability, which is popularly known as “mental retardation,” are PEOPLE foremost. They are more than just the sum of their disabilities. They are capable of a lot and can live very satisfied lives, just like you.

1.  Intellectual Disabilities/Mental Retardation is a Mental Illness?

  • I.D. or Mental Retardation is a condition that means a person develops mentally at a slower rate than average in “learning, reasoning, problem solving, and so on.”
  • They are capable of learning and showing progress when given the necessary education, care, and intervention.

2. Everyone diagnosed with I.D./M.R. are violent and grow up to be criminals.

3. They do not have feelings or recognize emotions.

  • In fact, people with I.D./M.R. “have the same range of feelings and emotions as anyone else.”
  • Intellectual disability is a condition defined by limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive functioning, which refer to mental capacity (i.e. learning) and behavioral skills (such as language and literacy skills, social skills, and basic personal care skills).
  • It does not stop a person from having the capacity to feel emotions such as sadness, anger, and fear.
  • People with disabilities, especially those who are nonverbal, are often targets of abuse because they cannot report the harm being done to them and are seen not as human beings.
    • In addition to the long list of abuses Twenty-year old K.C. endured at Oswald D. Heck Developmental Center prior to his death, the state-workers never called him by his name and instead referred to him as: “it,” “the thing, “the sparrow” and “the walking plague.”  Read more about K.C. in the NYT article and the closure of O.D. Heck at: <>
  • If you have any knowledge of abuse, neglect and mistreatment, please contact  the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs (http://www.justicecenter.ny.govor call 1-855-373-2122. 


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