The Story of Intellectual Disability: An Evolution of Meaning, Understanding, and Public Perception

Volume Editor: Michael L. Wehmeyer

Format: Paperback, 304 pages, 7.0 x 10.0
ISBN: 9781557669872
Price: $49.95

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Accessible, engaging, and filled with contributions by the country's most celebrated disability experts, this fascinating volume skillfully captures how intellectual disability has been understood from prehistoric times to present. Readers will discover how different societies have responded to people with disability throughout history, how life has changed for people with intellectual disability and their families over the centuries, and how key historical figures and events sparked social change and shaped our modern understanding of intellectual disability. Enhanced with remarkable images and illustrations, including exclusive photos from the editor's private collection of cultural artifacts, this informal history is a must-read for anyone devoted to improving the lives of people with intellectual disability.

  • Early ideas about the causes of intellectual disability
  • Evolution of the concept of intellectual disability
  • The role of religion in the ancient world's understanding of disability
  • Changing approaches to education and intervention
  • The rise and fall of the institution system
  • Depictions of intellectual disability in film, literature, and art
  • State-sanctioned sterilization programs in the twentieth century
  • The self-advocacy movement
  • The emergence and impact of parent associations, support groups, and training programs
  • How and why terminology changed throughout the years
  • and more


Review by: Ann Turnbull, University of Kansas
“Share[s] the story of intellectual disability informally through stirring photos, factual treatises, and authentic voices of those on the frontline of making history.”
Review by: Miguel Verdugo, Professor and Director at the Institute on Community Integration (INICO) at the University of Salamanca, Spain
“An excellent and systematic review of the history of people with intellectual disabilities . . . Anyone involved in the field of intellectual disabilities will treasure this book.”
Review by: James Thompson, President, American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD); Professor, Special Education, Illinois State University
“For those who aspire to understand the past in order to better navigate the present and prepare for the future, this book provides a comprehensive overview of the field of intellectual and related developmental disabilities from pre-history to today.”
Review by: Carol Quirk, Co-Executive Director, Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education
“As we move into an era where human potential is not defined solely by intellectual ability and where ALL people are considered valued members or our society, lets remember our past in order to build a more inclusive future. Thanks to the authors for this very important piece of work!”
Review by: Rob Horner, Professor, Special Education, University of Oregon
“A unique and timely analysis of intellectual disabilities . . . provoke[s] thought and consideration rather than simply laying out a historical summary. The text is an important gift to the field.”
Review by: Jim Martin, Zarrow Family Professor of Learning Enrichment, Director of the Zarrow Center, University of Oklahoma
“By using literature, art, philosophy, pseudo-science, film and history, this book provides a glimpse into intellectual disabilities from ancient times to today. It is a must read for anyone involved with people who have ID.”
Review by: David Braddock, Coleman-Turner Chair and Professor of Psychiatry, University of Colorado School of Medicine
“A beautifully crafted historical anthology . . . If you read only one book about intellectual disability this year, or any year for that matter, this should be that book. If you read two books, read this one twice.”

Table of Contents

About the Editor
About the Contributor
  1. Introduction to the Intellectual Disability Construct
    Robert L. Schalock
  2. At the Dawn of Civilization: Intellectual Disability in Prehistory and Ancient Times (9000 BCE to 500 CE)
    Ellis M. Craig
  3. Poverty and the Emergence of Charity: Intellectual Disability in the Middle Ages (500 CE to 1500 CE)
    Parnel Wickham
  4. Idiocy and Early Modern Law: Intellectual Disability in Early Modern Times (1500 CE to 1799 CE)
    Parnel Wickham
  5. The Development of Systems of Supports: Intellectual Disability in Middle Modern Times (1800 CE to 1899 CE)
    Philip Ferguson
  6. In Search of a Science: Intellectual Disability in Late Modern Times (1900 to 1930)
    J. David Smith, Steven Noll, and Michael L. Wehmeyer
  7. Isolation, Enlargement, and Economization: Intellectual Disability in Late Modern Times (1930 CE to 1950 CE)
    Michael L. Wehmeyer, Steven Noll, and J. David Smith
  8. The Parent Movement: Late Modern Times (1950 CE to 1980 CE)
    Robert L. Schalock and Michael L. Wehmeyer
  9. The Self-Advocacy Movement: Late Modern Times (1980 CE to Present)
    Dianne Ferguson, Philip Ferguson, and Michael L. Wehmeyer

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