Past Is Prologue

The Rise and Fall of ‘Mentally Retarded’

How a term that replaced bad words became one — and how to stop it from happening again

A chart from a 1913 New York Times article about a survey counting and classifying “defective” children in New York City schools.
John Langdon Down

The problem with simply abandoning an official label to the insulting masses is that it requires finding a new label, and we know what will happen next.

I once heard the mother of a child with special needs call her child’s special education teacher a “moron.” She had no idea.

Given time, ‘retarded’ may become the ‘idiot’ of tomorrow, its origin long forgotten.

To foster acceptance of, and pride among, people with intellectual disabilities, we cannot continue to run away from labels as if we are ashamed of the people behind them.

Writer & editor in the Washington, DC area, and author of works such as To Follow Elephants, winner of a Nautilus Book Award. rickhodgesauthor.com