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Education for children with disabilities was one of the first goals of the parents' movement. For years, it was generally believed that children with disabilities should begin schooling at a later age than others because they were slow to learn. But as Gunnar Dybwad stated "Because they needed more time to learn, we gave them less time... Today, one wonders how it was possible for people to be so shortsighted."

In 1953, the Association for Retarded Children issued a position statement, ''Education Bill of Rights for the Retarded Child," prepared by Elizabeth Boggs. This document stated that "every child, including every retarded child, has the right to a program of education and training suited to his particular needs and carried forward in the environment most favorable for him, whether that be the community public school, the state residential school or his own home."


Prior to 1975, people with profound disabilities seldom received any type of instruction. Persons with mild mental retardation were categorized as "educable" and had the opportunity to learn basic academic subjects and develop social skills. People with more severe disabilities were categorized as "trainable" and received instruction in self-help skills and socialization.

According to Dr. Gunnar Dybwad, attempts to classify children for the appropriate level of instruction, using the terms "educable" and "trainable," became "more and more damaging, if not pernicious, because [those terms] simply label persons with mental retardation for life on the basis of what we earlier judged their adjustment to be to a particular school situation.