Anna Wafula Striker, author of In My Dreams I Dance, writes that, “When you have a disability, knowing that you are not defined by it is the sweetest feeling.”
How we phrase things is important and “people first” language should be used when describing someone with a disability: the child with autism, the boy with a hearing impairment, the woman with Down Syndrome—not the autistic child, the deaf boy or the Down Syndrome woman. A person is not the disability. The diagnosis of a disability should not rob anyone of their identity.
It should go without saying that it is never okay to use the word “retarded” as slang for something stupid or dumb, like “what you are doing is just retarded” or “that TV show is retarded.” The term, mental retardation, as a diagnosis is even outdated; although some states may still use the term to qualify individuals for some specific services. Intellectual disability and developmental disability are the preferred terms.
So what falls under these categories? According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, “intellectual disability” is a disability that occurs before age 18 and causes significant limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior. The term “developmental disability” includes intellectual disability but also is broader in scope to include other disabilities appearing in childhood. Intellectual and developmental disabilities are significant and chronic and often affect both cognitive and social skills, as well as activities of daily living.
Disabilities of all types can affect someone’s daily functioning. Attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities (LD) may not be easily detected but can still impact the person’s educational progress and quality of life.
The LSU Health Shreveport School of Allied Health’s Children’s Center has a diagnostic team that works with families and school systems to make such determinations and help ensure students with these disabilities receive the assistance they need to achieve better outcomes in school and daily life. The Children’s Center diagnosed and made recommendations for assistance for 78 children with ADD or ADHD and 22 students with LD, as well as 145 more students who had other types of developmental issues in 2013.
Perhaps the most important takeaway from Intellectual and Developmental Disability Awareness Month can be summed up as “Recognize my disabilities, but emphasize my possibilities.” As we encounter persons with disabilities in our daily lives, remember that all of us have gifts and talents that we can offer, which makes the world a better place to live.