"Intellectual disability is characterized by significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills. This disability originates before age 18." (This is the 2010 definition of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.)
"Intellectual disability" is the accepted term for what used to be called "mental retardation." Although the term "mental retardation" was used in federal legislation, including the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, the Higher Education Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind), and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, anyone classified as having an "intellectual disability" under the new terminology has been considered eligible for services and programs designated for people with "mental retardation."
"Intellectual disability" is the term used by the following major organizations:
- American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD).
AAIDD is the major professional organization in the United States working on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; it was formerly the American Association on Mental Retardation. You can find out more about AAIDD at www.aaidd.org.
- The Arc
The Arc is the largest national non-profit organization in the United States working on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It has over 14,000 members who are affiliated through local and state chapters. You can find out more about the Arc at www.thearc.org. You may also be interested in The Arc's article, "Introduction to Intellectual Disabilities."
- Best Buddies International
Best Buddies is a friendship program for people with and without intellectual disabilities. It has chapters in middle schools, high schools and colleges throughout the United States as well as in several other countries. You can find out more about Best Buddies at www.bestbuddies.org.
- Special Olympics
Special Olympics is the major organization, nationally and internationally, for athletes with intellectual disabilities. You can find out more about Special Olympics at www.specialolympics.org.
- President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities
The Committee provides advice and assistance to the President of the United States and the Secretary of Health and Human Services on a broad range of topics that impact people with intellectual disabilities and the field of Intellectual Disabilities. You can find out more about the Committee here.
- World Health Organization
WHO is the health organization of the United Nations. You can find out more about WHO here.
In the fall of 2009, U.S. Senators Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) and Michael B. Enzi (R-WY) introduced S. 2781, also known as "Rosa's Law," a bill to eliminate the terms "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" from federal legislation. The bill was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama on October 5, 2010. Under the new law, the former terms will be replaced with "intellectual disability" and "individual with an intellectual disability" and thus make U.S. federal legislative language consistent with all the groups listed above.