History of Developmental Services

Discussion continues today about what is appropriate when talking about people with a developmental disability. "Intellectual disability" is starting to be used more often, although other terms such as "developmental disabilities" and "mental retardation" are still used.

Different terms are used in different settings. For example, educators use the term "special needs" to refer to a wide range of disabilities, not only developmental disabilities.

Terms such as "low grades" and "high grades" are now considered archaic and insulting. They are no longer used. However, "high functioning" and "low functioning" are still used to refer to a person's ability.

Advocacy movements in the community on behalf of individuals with a developmental disability, such as the People First organization, argue that the focus should be on the person first, before the disability. This is reflected in the evolution of language, as seen in the use of the terms "people with a developmental disability", rather than "developmentally disabled people".

The debate over language will likely continue, however. As community services and supports for people with a developmental disability continue to evolve, so, too, will the language we use. As attitudes towards people of all abilities change, so, too, will our words.


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The words we used: