The expressions "idiot, you idiot, you're an idiot, don't be an idiot," and the like are generally interpreted as momentary insults. But, they are also expressions that represent an old, if unstable, history. Beginning with an examination of the early nineteenth century labeling of mental retardation as "idiocy," to what we call developmental, intellectual, or learning disabilities, Mental Retardation in America chronicles the history of mental retardation, its treatment and labeling, and its representations and ramifications within the changing economic, social, and political context of America.
Mental Retardation in America includes essays with a wide range of authors who approach the problems of retardation from many differing points of view. This work is divided into five sections, each following in chronological order the major changes in the treatment of people classified as retarded. Exploring historical issues, as well as current public policy concerns, Mental Retardation in America covers topics ranging from representations of the mentally disabled as social burdens and social menaces; Freudian inspired ideas of adjustment and adaptation; the relationship between community care and institutional treatment; historical events, such as the Buck v. Bell decision, which upheld the opinion on eugenic sterilization; the evolution of the disability rights movement; and the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.