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Introduction to Intellectual Disability

Introduction to Intellectual Disability

Due Date: Oct 02, 2014 Max Points: 50

Details: Create your special education (SPED) team for this course. Include at least one special and one regular educator. For assignments in this course, you will need to work in the classroom with students with intellectual disability (ID), their parents, and members of community organizations. Interview a special educator and a regular educator of students with ID. Focus on addressing the following: 1. Issues relating to terminology, law, and identification of ID 2. Issues surrounding the definition and classification of students with ID 3. The impact of characteristics of ID on learning, social attitudes, and curricular needs Compare the viewpoints of the instructors and summarize your learning experience in an essay of 1,000-1,250 words. Prepare this assignment according to the APA guidelines found in the APA Style Guide, located in the Student Success Center. An abstract is not required. This assignment uses a grading rubric. Instructors will be using the rubric to grade the assignment; therefore, students should review the rubric prior to beginning the assignment to become familiar with the assignment criteria and expectations for successful completion of the assignment. You are required to submit this assignment to Turnitin. Refer to the directions in the Student Success Center. Only Word documents can be submitted to Turnitin.


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Topic: Introduction and Overview of Intellectual Disability

Course Contents

Lecture Note

1. SPE-351 Lecture 1

Read Lecture 1.

SPE-351 Lecture 10


1. Academic Instruction for Students with Moderate and Severe Intellectual Disabilities in Inclusive Classrooms

Read Chapter 1 in Academic Instruction for Students with Moderate and Severe Intellectual Disabilities in Inclusive Classrooms.

Electronic Resource

1. Intellectual Disability Fact Sheet

Read “Intellectual Disability Fact Sheet,” located on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

e-Library Resource

1. Special Education Teaching as a Profession: Lessons Learned From Occupations That Have Achieved Full Professional Standing

Read “Special Education Teaching as a Profession: Lessons Learned From Occupations That Have Achieved Full Professional Standing,” by Connelly & Rosenberg, from Teacher Education and Special Education (2009).


1. American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Explore the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities website.

2. National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities

Explore the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities page, located on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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Introduction and Overview of Intellectual Disability


Many people are interested in learning about their genealogy or family tree because it paints an existential portrait of who they are today. Genealogy is more than just connecting the dots from one person to another on down the line to the present; rather, it provides individuals with an opportunity to overlay the rich context of sociopolitical events of prior years by providing the back-story that may have shaped the thinking and behavior of their ancestors. Beyond understanding the basic effects of history at any given time, knowing one’s roots provides a preface about who one is today. Many know the risk that comes with opening the pages of the family history book?skeletons hidden in the proverbial closet. Some people are alarmed by this possibility and stay focused only on today and the future instead of peeking into the past. Ironically, the past does provide wisdom for the future. It is the curriculum for teaching individuals and organizations what works and what does not work, what to do or keep doing, and conversely, it also informs individuals and organizations what to stop doing or what to avoid if they are to achieve their goals.

The reader can see where this is going. Structurally speaking, one’s profession is much like a family, a family with rich traditions, exciting adventures, and full of eccentric family members. Like the book of Proverbs in the Bible, it is also full of directions regarding what to do and what to avoid if the profession is to continue to make effective progress. Reading about the past is a lot like engaging in an archeological dig. It is one of the reasons researchers like Kanner (1964), Mesibov (1976), Scheerenberger (1983), and Winzer (1993) embarked on the journey to understand better the deep roots and broad branches of the field of Intellectual Disability. From scholarly exercise, they were able to understand the rich tapestry of issues, events, and perspectives that ebbed and flowed over the past 200 years of special education’s recorded history. By examining the literature, Mesibov, for example, was able to conclude that much of the programmatic focus in the field was on those with Intellectual Disability and needed to expand to those in society who must learn to accept them. The field of special education itself is deeply rooted in the education and treatment of Intellectual Disability; in fact, the first public school special education classes in the United States were for children with Intellectual Disability (Heward, 2009). As Drew and Hardman (2007) explain, the field of Intellectual Disability was profoundly impacted by parents and families who advocated for and led many of the reform efforts to change archaic and unsupportive political and educational systems to one that is now more innovative and evenhanded in its treatment of individuals with Intellectual Disability.

Many special educators are not that interested in history, but in truth, they will have a difficult time understanding present contextual dilemmas if they do not explore or shine the light on past issues. It is critical to keep in mind that present professional problems have roots in the distant past as opposed to just yesterday (Kauffman & Landrum, 2009). Special educators may be surprised to learn that the vocation did not emerge from a unified field of professional teachers; in fact, its conceptual underpinnings, its definitions, its laws, and its interventions are inextricably intertwined with the fields of psychology, psychiatry, medicine, biology, anthropology, sociology, law and public policy, social work, government, and religion (Drew & Hardman, 2007; Kauffman, 1976). Studying the history of special education may be a daunting and complex task for some, but on the other hand, ignoring history may cause educators to repeat past mistakes and prevent becoming an effective, well-developed profession (Kauffman, 1993). History may help educators assess and solve current problems; in fact, “History is the basic science. From history flows more than knowledge, more than prescription, more than how it was?[it tells us] how we might try to make it become” (Blatt, 1975; as cited in Kauffman, 1976, pp. 343-344). Blatt’s observation about history is important because a careful scientific analysis of history should enable special education to become a profession that is able to solve the educational problems of the day and help children succeed in life.

The central message here is that studying the roots to special education will pay dividends in the form of professional maturity, wisdom, and effectiveness. This is a goal worth pursing if teachers plan to devote a good portion of their lives to working with children with special needs. The field and study of Intellectual Disability is an exciting one, and as Taylor, Richards, and Brady (2005) believe, it is full of promise. The excitement is perhaps best captured by Black and Salas’ (as cited in Taylor et al., 2005) presentation at the American Association of Mental Retardation (AAMR) convention:

We have moved from terms like feeble-minded, idiot, imbecile, and moron, to cognitive disability. We have gone from views of deviancy and deficiency to views of natural differences and at times, even a celebration of diversity. We have seen progress from institutionalization to community living. We are moving from fear to acceptance. A vast array of potential and opportunities afforded most people with disabilities has opened a world of new life options. (p. 29)


There is much to say about the history of special education and Intellectual Disability. The determined and interested special educator who wants an expansive treatise on the topic is encouraged to invest in Scheerenberger’s (1983) classic and comprehensive text wherein the author traces European influences on the field beginning in prehistoric times until the 20th century, and then branched out to describe the history of Intellectual Disability in America since the early 1600s.

At least four historical phases are noted and described by researchers in the profession and includes (a) an early dark history, (b) a subsequent shift towards institutional care, (c) a period of conflict, and (d) a shift to a more humanistic treatment of those with Intellectual Disability in the mid-to-late 20th century (Taylor et al., 2005). The early dark period starts around 1500 B.C.where some of the earliest known medical writings from Egypt describe possible cases of Intellectual Disability; this particular period extends into and through the 17th and 18th centuries where, despite the so-called progress of the Age of Reason and Enlightenment, treatment of individuals with Intellectual Disability was apparently quite inhumane. The reason this period is often regarded as being dark is because researchers do not have enough clear and precise evidence about how those early societies treated individuals with Intellectual Disability, but when evidence is uncovered, they find that attitudes toward, and treatment of, this population is generally quite negative. There were some exceptions such as the work of Jacob Periere and Phillipe Pinel, both of whom lived France during the latter part of this dark period. Periere is mentioned as among the first who developed and taught a simple sign language to improve the communication skills of individuals with disabilities, and Pinel is described as being involved in a social movement aimed at treating the mentally ill more humanely (Scheerenberger, 1983; Winzer, 1993). On another positive note, under the 12th century rule of King Henry II in England, special legislation was enacted to protect idiots or natural fools (as they were referred to then) whereby they became wards of the king (Drew & Hardman, 2007).

Researchers consider the shift to care period as starting in the early 19th century and extending to about the mid- to late-1800s when America started to experience economic woes and then the Civil War erupted. In the early stages of this period, Europe and America developed a system of institutionalized care for the Intellectually Disabled called asylums, farm schools, or training schools. Medical advances, improved educational practices, and the passing of protective laws for this population created better living conditions, services, and treatment. However, when war and the economic downturn occurred in America and Europe, a negative shift in attitude towards the Intellectually Disabled and the mentally ill (disabilities which often co-occur with each other) started to take place in society.

The increased negativity after the Civil War extended into the early 20th century. There were many reasons for this, but according to Lazerson (1975), the increased number of institutions and the role they played in treating those with Intellectual Disability and concomitant mental illness actually triggered a growing fear and concern that the population at large was in danger of being overrun by degenerates. As a result, society began to view these special treatment settings as a convenient means for segregating those deemed menacing and strange. This Age of Conflict, as it is sometimes called, saw the alarming development of Francis Galton’s eugenics movement in America. This movement of the late 19th to early 20th century sought to cleanse or improve the qualities of a race of people (MacMillan, 1985) and was spurred on by the now famous publication of The Jukes: A Study in Crime, Pauperism, Disease, and Heredity (Dugdale, 1877/1970). As a result, more institutions were built to segregate the Intellectually Disabled from society and prevent these defectives from breeding through forced sterilization programs and separation of the genders. American society’s fear of the Intellectually Disabled (and mentally ill) grew because of (a) the increased and widespread use of intelligence tests to identify Intellectual Disability, (b) Goddard’s research on the inheritability of Intellectual Disability and his recommendation to keep them from reproducing, (c) the supposed increased evidence that Intellectual Disability was the root of a variety of societal vices (e.g., crime, juvenile delinquency, prostitution), and (d) a report that the prevalence of Intellectual Disability was increasing and would overtake the culture if nothing was done to address it (Drew & Hardman, 2007; MacMillan, 1985; Taylor, et al., 2005).

It was not until about the 1940s when World War II united America that the field of Intellectual Disability saw a significant change towards treatment that is more humane and protections, a change triggered by advances in education, medicine, and the law. Political and philosophical understanding of the Intellectually Disabled gradually shifted from institutional segregation to a more positive normalization approach whereby individuals with Intellectual Disability were provided, to the maximum extent appropriate, the same opportunities and living conditions in life as those without disabilities (Nirje, 1969; Wolfensberger, 1972). With the passage and enactment of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act in 1975, and upon the development of legal and educational concepts and practices such as the least restrictive environment (LRE), mainstreaming, the Regular Education Initiative (REI), social role valorization, and full inclusion (reform movement that seemed to package the concepts of mainstreaming and LRE together), an increased positive outlook occurred in the field of Intellectual Disability. Leaders and researchers in the field were excited because individuals with Intellectual Disability could finally be afforded with greater access to an appropriate public education and better vocational preparation and transition planning for adulthood (Giangreco, 2006; Inge & Moon, 2006).

Defining and Classifying Intellectual Disability

Intellectual Disability is a multifaceted disorder that continues to challenge those who work in the fields of education, medicine, psychology, and the law. Concerning the concept of Intellectual Disability, leaders continue to craft its definition so that the field and society can better communicate the needs and issues facing this population (Drew & Hardman, 2007). The definition of Intellectual Disability has been evolving and changing for over 2,000 years, with the first formal and more public definition being made in the 16th century by Fitz-Hebert (Taylor et al., 2005). Over the past 200 years, however, the definition of Intellectual Disability has seen substantial changes to its terminology and concepts. In 1921, the American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR) published its first manual officially describing the features of the disorder and the classification requirements. By 2002, the AAMR’s 10th edition narrowed the definition and classification system to read as follows:

Intellectual Disability is a disability characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills. This disability originates before age 18. (Luckasson, Borthwick-Duffy, Buntinx, Coulter, Craig, Reeve, et al., 2002, p. 1; as cited in Taylor et al., 2005, p. 44)

Although minor adjustments were made in 2002 to the 1992 AAMR manual’s definition, Denning, Chamberlain, and Polloway (2000) discovered that 43 states and the district of Columbia still preferred, and were using, the 1983 AAMR guidelines for identifying Intellectual Disability. Moreover, while a shift in definition occurred in 2002, to the extent that the AAMR changed its name to the American Association on Intellectual Disabilities (AAID), not everyone in the field has accepted the change in concept and terminology and still choose to use the term mentalretardation instead of intellectual disabilities (Heward, 2009).

Prevalence and Characteristics of Intellectual Disability

Prevalence refers to the total number of cases of Intellectual Disability during a given period (e.g., 2007-2008). Incidence, on the other hand, refers to the number of new cases identified during a given time frame. Both are important statistics to consider, especially for federal funding reasons so that one can make the case that more resources are needed to address the current needs of individuals with Intellectual Disability and that funding levels need to increase in order to conduct research on how to solve the issues and problems that accompany the disabling condition.

Similarly, as with many other disabilities, arriving at a precise prevalence statistic is difficult because the definition and classification scheme for Intellectual Disability has undergone many changes over the past 30 to 40 years. Historically, prevalence estimates have ranged from 1% to 3% of the general population in the United States. According to Drew and Hardman (2007), the U.S. Department of Education’s 24th Annual Report to Congress in 2002 estimated that 11% of school-age children with disabilities were identified with Intellectual Disability. In raw numbers, that is approximately 612,978 children ages 6 to 21 being served under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) during the 2001-2002 school year (Drew & Hardman, 2007).

There are many intriguing aspects to the phenomenon of Intellectual Disability. Cognitively, the instructional focus with Intellectual Disability should be viewed through the multifaceted lens of adaptive behavior, social interactions and roles, health, and the environmental/cultural context (Luckasson et al., 2002). The process of mediation is one way to stimulate cognitive development, an intervention method using language and discourse to guide and assist students in developing critical skills and applications across the aforementioned foci. Santrock (2001) recommends that mediation occur within the child’s zone of proximal development, the zone referring to tasks that are too difficult for students to learn by themselves but which they can learn if an adult can provide effective instructional guidance and assistance along the way. Moreover, scaffolding is another technique teachers can use in conjunction with mediation to systematically alter and change the level of difficulty of tasks so that students with Intellectual Disability can expand their abilities and skills.

As Drew and Hardman (2007), Taylor, et al. (2005), and Thomas (1996) all point out, students with Intellectual Disability arrive at the schoolhouse door displaying complex learning, attention, memory, and speech-language problems. The spectrum of Intellectual Disability ranges from the mild level to the severe and profound levels of impairment. If a student with Intellectual Disability is also identified with other concomitant disorders such as mental illness, autism, or Down syndrome, then the level of service these students receive in the public schools will increase dramatically. The learning characteristics of students with Intellectual Disability will present challenges to teachers and parents alike, forcing special education teams to consider carefully which instructional strategies and curricular approaches, models, or programs will have the greatest impact on learning to keep the student’s rate of skill development growing as opposed to stagnating. The development of social competence is an important goal for students with Intellectual Disability to achieve if they are to make and keep friends. However, if language impairments are present, if they struggle to sustain attention over time and cannot effectively store and retrieve information learned throughout the day and week, then this competency will be out of reach for most students with Intellectual Disability. It is not surprising that some students with Intellectual Disability often struggle with and display behavioral challenges that interfere with the opportunity to maintain friendships (Drew & Hardman, 2007).

Legal Considerations

Throughout the history of special education and specifically with individuals with Intellectual Disability, the law has always played an integral part in the protection of civil rights and access to a free and appropriate education (FAPE) as mandated by IDEA. For example, in 1954, the Cooperative Research and Education Act provided funds for Intellectual Disability research (Taylor et al., 2005); in the discrimination case of Larry P. v. Riles (1972), the court ruled that IQ tests could not be used to identify African American students with Intellectual Disability (the ruling has since changed).

In 1975, with the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (later renamed IDEA), six protective principles were set forth and benefited all children with disabilities including those with Intellectual Disability. They include: (a) Zero Reject (the principle underlying FAPE for all children with disabilities); (b) Nondiscriminatory Evaluations; (c) Individualized Education Program (IEP) development; (d) educating in the Least Restrictive Environments (to the maximum extent appropriate); (e) right to Due Process; and (f) Parental Participation in the development of the IEP (cf. Obsorne & Russo, 2007). While there are many landmark legal cases that have changed the way public schools and society must treat individuals with Intellectual Disability, most leaders and researchers in the field regard IDEA as the sine qua non piece of legislation, not only because of the six protective principles mentioned above, but because it also affords students at the age of majority the opportunity to exercise all rights and responsibilities to decide their future and reinforces the concept of self-determination that individuals without disabilities have and take for granted.


The study of mental retardation provides the investigator with an open window to view the intriguing historical landscape of special education. Its history is intertwined with the history and treatment of many other disabilities in special education, such as specific learning disabilities and emotional/behavioral disorders. One cannot learn about this topic without also passing through the collective history of special education and reading about the critical issues facing other disciplines within special education. The current state of the field of Intellectual Disability is one of promise and excitement considering how the attitudes and treatment of this population has changed dramatically and positively over the past 50 years. Perhaps one of the hallmark advances attesting to this is the large increase in the numbers of individuals with Intellectual Disability who are now living in community housing instead of state-run institutional facilities (Taylor, et al., 2005). This represents a monumental, philosophical paradigm shift in the culture-at-large, a shift that at one time was considered impossible to achieve.


Blatt, B. (1975). Toward an understanding of people with special needs. In J. M. Kauffman & J. S. Payne (Eds.), Mental retardation: Introduction and personal perspectives. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill.

Denning, C., Chamberlain, J., & Polloway, E. (2000). An evaluation of state guidelines for mental retardation: Focus on definition and classification practices. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 35, 226-232.

Drew, C. J., & Hardman, M. L. (2007). Intellectual disabilities across the lifespan (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

Dugdale, R. (1970). The Jukes: A study in crime, pauperism, disease, and heredity. New York: Arno Press. (Original work published in 1877)

Education of All Handicapped Children Act, Pub. L. No. 94-142 (1975)

Giangreco, M. F. (2006). Foundational concepts and practices for educating students with severe disabilities. In M. E. Snell & F. Brown (Eds.), Instruction of students with severe disabilities (6th ed.) (pp. 1-27). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Heward, W. L. (2009). Exceptional children: An introduction to special education (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

Inge, K. J., & Moon, M. S. (2006). Vocational preparation and transition. In M. E. Snell & F. Brown (Eds.), Instruction of students with severe disabilities (6th ed.) (pp. 569-609). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Kanner, L. (1964). A history of the care and study of the mentally retarded. Springfield, IL: Thomas.

Kauffman, J. M. (1976). Nineteenth century views of children’s behavior disorders: Historical contributions and continuing issues. The Journal of Special Education, 10, 335-349.

Kauffman, J. M. (1993). How we might achieve the radical reform of special education. Exceptional Children, 60, 6-16.

Kauffman, J. M. & Landrum, T. J. (2009). Characteristics of emotional and behavioral disorders of children and youth (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.

Larry P. v. Riles, 343 F. Supp. 1306 (N.D. Cal. 1972).

Lazerson, M. (1975). Educational institutions and mental subnormality: Notes on writing a history. In M. Begab & S. Richardson (Eds.), The mentally retarded and society (pp. 33-52). Baltimore, MD: University Park Press.

Luckasson, R., Borthwick-Duffy, S., Buntinx, W., Coulter, D., Craig, E., Reeve, A., Shalock, R., Snell, M., Spitalnik, D., Spreat, S., & Tasse, M. (2002). Mental retardation: Definition, classification, and systems of supports (10th ed.). Washington, DC: American Association on Mental Retardation.

MacMillan, D. (1985). Mental retardation in school and society (2nd ed.). Boston: Little, Brown.

Mesibov, G. B. (1976). Mentally retarded people: 200 years in America. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 5, 25-29.

Nirje, B. (1969). The normalization principle and its human management implications. In R. B. Kugel & W. Wolfensberger (Eds.), Changing patterns in residential services for the mentally retarded (pp. 179-195). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Osborne, A. G., & Russo, C. J. (2007). Special education and the law: A guide for practitioners (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Santrock, J. W. (2001). Educational psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Scheerenberger, R. (1983). A history of mental retardation. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

Taylor, R. L., Richards, S. B., & Brady, M. P. (2005). Mental retardation: Historical perspectives, current practices, and future directions. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Winzer, M. (1993). The history of special education. Washington, DC: Gallaudet Press.

Wolfensberger, W. (1972). The principle of normalization in human services. Toronto: National Institute on Mental Retardation.

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