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The term "politically correct" often used in a negative context. Politically correct terms ultimately show respect by referring to people in their preferred language or by community-accepted terminology. Finding labels for mentally handicapped individuals is challenging, because terms like "retarded" are also used as derogatory labels even in the non-handicapped population. Over time, the usage of acceptable terms for mentally handicapped people have changed with terminology changes reflecting a more positive and politically correct approach.

Mentally Retarded

In certain contexts, mentally retarded is still an appropriate term to utilize. Mentally retarded is commonly used in the medical community to refer to someone with an IQ at or below 70, a poor ability to adapt and an onset of the condition before the age of 18. In many cases, however, this term is not preferred as it doesn't include people who suffered brain damage later in life or have specific sorts of mental handicaps such as aphasia. It also the source of the pejorative word "retard," and as such, can be hurtful. Using the word retarded accurately in a medical setting and in the appropriate social context determines whether it will be seen as politically correct.

Developmentally Disabled

The term developmentally disabled is a more acceptable alternative to mentally retarded since it is not linked to any pejorative terms. It also covers conditions like autism and cerebral palsy which don't necessarily involve a low IQ. Like the term mentally retarded, however, it only covers people who have an early life condition that leads to a mental handicap. For example, a person who is in a car accident and sustains head trauma as an adult is not developmentally disabled.

Mentally Challenged

"Challenged" has become more accepted a preferred word to "handicapped". Mentally challenged can be viewed as a politically correct catch-all term for people with mental disabilities. Other terms such as mentally handicapped or mentally disadvantaged also have supporters. While no word perfectly describes everyone with a mental disability, mentally challenged can be a more respectful and politically correct general term.

Name of the Condition

Another more politically correct option to use in labelling a person who is mentally handicapped is to use the name of their respective condition. Down's Syndrome, autism, Williams Syndrome, aphasia and other conditions have distinguishing characteristics that affect mental capacities and functioning in different ways. Demonstrating your awareness of the medical diagnosis by using the proper term for a particular condition can show a respectful and politically correct attitude.