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Stephen Greenspan, PhD
Exploring and facilitating human competence
Intellectual Disabilities

My work is probably best known within the field of Intellectual Disabilities (ID, formerly known as Mental Retardation). What I did was to take my early work on social incompetence, done under the tutelage of Michael Chandler (at the University of Rochester), and combined it with a later interest in ID, attained through pre-doctoral work (also at Rochester) with Rune Simeonsson and postdoctoral work (at UCLA) with Alexander Tymchuk and Steven Forness. My initial foray (done during a two-year stint at Peabody/ Vanderbilt) in this area was a chapter on "Social Intelligence" in the second edition of the prestigious ELLIS HANDBOOK ON MENTAL DEFICIENCY (an unfortunate term, now thankfully retired). This work, particularly a comprehensive model of "Personal and Social Competence", lay the groundwork for much of my work over the next two decades, particularly around the issue of defining ID and its critical domain of "adaptive behavior." Although my initiation into the ID field was kind of an accident (I fished a flyer announcing the UCLA postdoc out of someone's wastebasket), it turned out to meet an important personal need stemming from my having a younger brother with ID.

Probably my most cited empirical work in this area was a study I did during a stint at Omaha's Boys Town Center for the Study of Youth Development. A paper, co-authored with Bonnie Shoultz, examined the reasons why adults with mild ID were fired from competitive employment. Using my competence model as a content-analytic framework, we found that individuals with ID were likely to be fired for socially unintelligent behaviors (such as interrupting formal meetings to chat) than for inability to do the job. The significance of this is that most of the emphasis in the emerging area of "supported employment" was on the formal demands of the job and little was on the informal, but crucial, area of social functioning in the workplace. One reason for this was because of the mistaken view that the social domain involved mainly psychopathology but we showed that a social-cognitive emphasis was needed and was very congruent with other cognitive emphases in preparing people with ID to enter the workforce.

During my decade-plus at the University of Connecticut, my influence on the ID field (through my own papers and those of others, such as Robert Schalock and Kevin McGrew), was on exploring implications of the model of social and personal competence for the definition of "adaptive behavior" and ID. This influence can be seen in the 2002 AAIDD (formerly AAMR) "red book" classification manual, in which adaptive behavior is formulated in terms of a tripartite model taken from my work. As reflected in a number of papers, both in AAIDD's WHAT IS MENTAL RETARDATION? (co-edited by Harvey Switzky and myself) and elsewhere (a paper in EXCEPTIONALITY and a study with Sharon Duffy), I am not completely happy with the AAIDD formulation, mainly because it keeps "King IQ" on his throne (rather than integrating IQ and adaptive behavior more fully through a tripartite model of "adaptive intelligences").

Recently, my work in ID has focused on gullibility and "foolish action" as universal features of the ID "taxon" (phenotype). This work has attained some notice (the Vineland-2 has gullibility items for the first time) and it is mentioned in the red book. The importance of this is that until now, there was no single requirement in meeting the adaptive behavior prong (one could be low in any one of three adaptive domains), which left IQ as the only universal deficit associated with ID. The importance of this work is especially found in the area of forensic assessment in so-called "Atkins" (death penalty because of possible ID) cases, in which assessment of gullibility and related social vulnerability is becoming commonplace. More information about my work on these topics can be found in the FORENSIC CONSULTING and GULLIBILITY AND FOOLISH ACTION pages in this website.