Federal Programs Supporting Research and Training in Intellectual Disability

Before the 1960s, private agencies and federal and state governments showed little interest in services for individuals with intellectual disability (ID). The prevailing attitude was that individuals with ID did not benefit from such services (Matthews, 1957, 1971; Perkins, 1971; West et al., 1947).

During the administrations of Presidents John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson (1960–1968), legislation leading to deinstitutionalization and federal support for research and training in ID reflected a change in attitude toward the role of individuals with ID in society and a recognition of the rights and potential of individuals with ID.

As perceptions changed, legislation and philanthropic foundations provided funds to explore the needs, nature, and suitability of services for individuals with ID.

The following critical federal programs began funding research and training on what was formerly known as “mental retardation” and developmental disabilities in the early 1960s.

Federal Programs Funding

Bureau of Education for the Handicapped (BEH; authorized by Congress within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, 1967)

[Now Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP; U.S. Department of Education)]

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS; U.S. Department of Education)

Allocates funding to the states to develop and provide educational programs for individuals with handicaps.

National Institutes of Health Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIH: NICHD) (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Branch, created in 1962)

Sponsors research and research training aimed at preventing and ameliorating intellectual and related developmental disabilities

Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD; formerly the American Association of University Affiliated Programs for Persons With Developmental Disabilities)

Provides funding to promote and support a national network of university centers on disabilities in preparing personnel to conduct and disseminate quality research in ID. Network members include:

  • Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Centers (IDDRCs; 1963)
  • University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service (UCEDDs; 1963)

Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND; established by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, 1993)

Provides funding for the following activities:

  • long-term, graduate-level interdisciplinary training to health professionals
  • development of leadership potential to improve the health status of infants, children, and adolescents with or at risk for neurodevelopmental and related disabilities
  • enhancement of systems of care for these children and their families

LEND is a member of the AUCD network

Institute of Education Sciences (IES); National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER)
  • As part of IES, NCSER supports rigorous research on infants, toddlers, children, and youth with and at risk for disabilities through advancing the understanding of and practices for teaching, learning, and organizing education systems.
  • Their foci range from cognition to transition to postsecondary education, career, and/or independent living.
  • IES also includes three additional centers that research broad education topics which may include students with disabilities.
National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)
  • NIDILRR supports research, demonstration, training, technical assistance, and related activities to maximize the full inclusion and integration into society, employment, independent living, family support, and economic and social self-sufficiency of individuals with disabilities of all ages.
  • NIDILRR supports model systems research for domains such as traumatic brain injury.


Matthews, J. (1957). Speech problems of the mentally retarded. In L. E. Travis (Ed.), Handbook of speech pathology (pp. 531551). New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Matthews, J. (1971). Communication disorders in the mentally retarded. In L. E. Travis (Ed.), Handbook of speech pathology and audiology (pp. 801–818). New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Perkins, W. (1971). Speech pathology: An applied behavioral science. St. Louis, MO: Mosby.

West, R., Kennedy, L., & Carr, A. (1947). The rehabilitation of speech. Oxford, England: Harper.

ASHA Corporate Partners