By: Michael L. Wehmeyer
Release of the most recent edition (2002) of the American Association on Mental Retardation's terminology and classification manual provides a point in time to consider ways in which mental retardation is understood and how that understanding contributes to educational practices to promote positive outcomes for students with mental retardation. Since release of the previous edition of the manual (in 1992) much has changed about the context in which educators work and students are taught. Language in the 1997 reauthorization of IDEA with regard to providing access to the general curriculum intended to align special education practice with prevalent educational reform initiatives. The shift in the 1992 definition and classification system (continued in the 2002 manual) toward a supports paradigm and defining mental retardation as a function of the interaction between a person's independent functioning and the context in which that person lives, learns, works and plays provides a framework within which we can consider how to more effectively enable students to gain access to the general curriculum.