Sunday, January 24, 2016

The "R" word

"What a retard." "Are you retarded?"

I hear the word used all the time.

Many of my friends say it. People I'm related to say it. I've even heard another special needs mom say it. Yes, I hate it. But, no, I don't blame the people who use it so freely. It's just the way they (we) grew up. I've said it my fair share in the past. It was probably part of my regular vernacular for a while. It's always been a commonly used word and some people just use it more than others.

I cringe.

I want to tell the person not to say it around me. And if you're close enough to me, I will tell you not to say it. The real reason I'll tell you is not just because I find it offensive, but when you say it, it's clear that you really don't know any better. And as an adult, or even a kid, in 2016, you should know better.

Look around and see the rise of children with autism and other conditions and disabilities. Chances are, your family member, a close friend, or someone you work with is dealing with a child with a disability. It's just so far from being an appropriate term to use.

A few months ago, a friend asked me to explain exactly why the word affects me the way it does. She said, "suddenly, because you have a special needs child, you take offense to a word people just say? It's like you're relating it to your kid."

I didn't have the right answer to explain it at that time. Now I do.

The other day I was able to feel the magnitude of why the word is so offensive. I knew it would make me cringe whenever I'd hear it. I also knew that by hating it so much, I'm connecting it to my daughter. But, I didn't quite clearly understand exactly why I hate it so much.

Until I got a form to fill out for the school I'm hoping Josie is accepted to one day.

The form said:
If a child has multiple disabilities please check all that apply:
Mental retardation
Emotionally impaired
Speech impaired
Visually impaired
The list goes on.

I couldn't check mental retardation.

I wanted to write next to it, "Don't you call her that." Is that even the term still? Isn't there a new term for it since the "r" word has been so widely used to mean the stupidest a person can be? Can't we just say intellectually disabled.

My daughter isn't stupid. Her brain won't tell her body what to do. But, she's in there. She is smart. She knows. I'm sure of it. Because of the gene that was misspelled while her DNA was being written, when she wants to speak, her brain can't send the signal to her voice and mouth to put it together.

When she wants to reach for something, again, her brain can't coordinate it with her arms. She has a neurological genetic condition that has limited the ability of her brain to function the way she wants it to.

Oh, it's just semantics. Sure. But, the word "retarded" has been polluted to the point that when anyone says it near a mom who has been asked to confirm that her daughter is in fact, mentally retarded, he or she is absolutely, unequivocally affecting that mom.

That person is making her cringe inside.

I want to say ALL of this every time someone says, "how retarded" something or someone is, but 90% of the time, I don't say anything. I don't want to defend myself on this one. I can brush it right off. I realize they have no idea. My hope is one day, they will just know better.

And if they've read this, they know now.


  1. So passionately and well said. It's not always easy to call people on their use of the word. I've found that saying something simple like "I know you didn't mean anything by it but I find that word offensive" works. It is hard to believe schools still use that defunct term, isn't it? "Intellectual disability" is the preferred term.

  2. Dear God! (And I don't use the term lightly) , it's like you are inside my brain! Because we have kids with the most interesting brains in the world, and we are their moms so by osmosis you and I think many of the same things! I think people who use the 'r' word sound soooo uneducated that they are actually the definition of stupid, not our children who can do so much with the limited resources they've got!