Children with Mental Retardation

Children with Mental Retardation coverChildren with Mental Retardation: A Parents’ Guide
Smith, Ed.

Submitted by a public library in Illinois, this one is pretty obvious. It uses old terminology, for starters. Wikipedia has a good article that explains the history of terminology for what we now refer to as intellectual disability. It also explains something I’ve never heard of: the “euphemism treadmill.” Basically,  no matter what terminology is acceptable now, it will be considered an insult later. In other words, library books on special needs have to be kept up to date so that they reflect the current terminology at the very least.

There are also advances in therapies, treatments, and learning strategies that need to be kept up to date, plus the further definition of conditions that fall under intellectual disability. Here’s a good explanation from the American Psychiatric Association of what intellectual disability is. It’s not clear to me in the limited pages submitted (images below) what conditions this book covers. Downs Syndrome? Autism? How about what the APA calls “co-occurring conditions” like ADHD, anxiety, and cerebral palsy?


children with mental retardation contents

Children with Mental Retardation introduction

How Mental Retardation Affects Intelligence


  1. There is a definitely a “euphemism treadmill” associated with this field. In Canada, the organization once known as the “Canadian Association for Retarded Children” became the “Canadian Association for the Mentally Retarded” and currently the “Canadian Association For Community Living”. To some extent, this reflects the changing focus of the group, originally children, then intellectually-disabled people in general, and, finally, the transition from institutionalized care to living more independently in the greater community.

    I might argue that the last name may have been too euphemized; when I first saw references to it some thirty-odd years ago, I didn’t associate it with intellectual disabilities (despite the fact that my sister actually worked in this field). Over time, I’m guessing most people now know what the group represents, but I suspect I was not the only person who was initially confused.

  2. I hate the way people use autistic as an insult. And the way people are “educated” about it by the media or from spending five seconds on google. All the misconceptions about autism has to stop. Especially the one where we “lack empathy”. Autistic people are constantly bullied, abused, are at least three times more likely to be victims of a violent crime, and yet *we’re* supposedly the ones who are cold and heartless.

  3. Linguists could have a field day arguing whether the well-known-to-them “euphemism treadmill” (a.k.a. “pejorative semantic change”) is a cultural aspect, a language evolution, or a conspiracy to have to keep changing (and selling new) books, texts, regulations, etc.

    We’ve seen this in just about any terminology or euphemism that can in any way be construed as “negative” in context. No longer can you say “Negroes,” or “colored people,” and even “black/Black” is becoming unacceptable, and in some corners I wouldn’t even say “persons of color” anymore. There may (by the theory of the “treadmill,” absolutely will) even come a day when the term “African-American” is considered “politically incorrect.” (As in, what if your ancestors didn’t come from Africa?)

    There are arguments as to whether the embracing of the term “progressive” and increasing repudiation of the term “liberal” among the political left in the U.S. reflects an actual change in political theory or simply another example of the “treadmill” after the increasing use of “liberal” in insulting pejorative terms by right-wing commentators.

    “Global warming” ====> “climate change.”

    Are you just now figuring out the concept of the “euphemism treadmill,” or are you simply surprised to learn the name applied to it?

    1. “Climate change” is actually more accurate than “global warming.” While the planet is getting hotter on average, that is not always true for a particular area at a particular time of the year. In a recent year, the East Coast of the United States had an extremely cold winter. Climate change conveys more information; in addition to the planet getting hotter, climate change also takes the increase in hurricanes, tornadoes, and greater extremes in weather overall into account.

      1. “Global warming” vs “climate change” has an interesting ideological etymology. Basically the fossil-fuel industry spokespeople coined “climate change” to put a smiley face on the phenomenon, the scientific community adopted the term because, as you said, it’s more accurate – and then demagogues took “global warming” as their own since it was good for a round of late-night jokes every time a nor’easter or cold snap hit New York for a long time, and it has that nice long “o” at the front to stretch out into a mocking tone.

  4. I probably would have rejected this one on the basis of the cover alone. The children look like paper dolls designed by Tim Burton. The cover may be colorful but it feels unsavory to me.

  5. “(Mentally) retarded” as an adjective was the polite, scientific term for a long time; “Retard” (noun) was coined from it specifically as a playground insult. Sort of the opposite of person-first language.

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