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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The R-Word



Today is the annual “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign, in which advocates of the special
needs community encourage people to stop using the word “retard” and all its forms. It’s a day that means a great deal to me now, but wasn’t even on my radar two years ago. It’s probably not on yours either unless you know and love someone with intellectual delays. Even if you do, you might glance at this issue and shrug your shoulders, thinking to yourself that being overly-PC is more damaging to our society than the words we use to insult others. I probably would have agreed with you a few years back, to be honest. But there’s something about crossing to the other side that makes it possible for me to see where you’re coming from, but also insist that you consider a new place to go. Because using words that hurt others simply to be funny, or even because you “forgot” to check your tongue, aren’t good enough reasons to keep using them.

You see, when you use the word “retard” you insult an entire group of people who are often unable to defend themselves. It’s probably why the word has been slow to fall out of social acceptance, unlike words like “ni**er” or “fa**ot.” The goal of the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign is to make “retard” so offensive that even open-minded, censorship-hating bloggers like myself have to type it with asterisks instead of letters. But moreover, when you call someone a “retard,” you’re basically telling them that they’ve chosen to do something stupid and therefore deserve to be insulted. This word isn’t used with any positive connotation. It’s an insult, a joke, and a way to point out others’ bad choices. But what you’re really doing is taking away my son’s worth. You’re making him out to be your scapegoat for comedy. And you’re making yourself less of my friend. That’s harsh, I know. But if you can’t respect me and my son enough to stop using that word, then you don’t deserve my friendship (said with Mama Bear claws fully and unapologetically exposed).  


There is a small holdout of medical professionals who still use the word “retard” in the clinical sense. While the intent is not to insult, but to define, most advocates like myself feel that the associated negative connotations have made clinical use of the word antiquated and unnecessary. Even Quinn’s current Early Childhood Intervention services are through an organization called the “Mental Health and Mental Retardation Association of Houston.” When they announced an intended change in the name a few weeks back, there was a firestorm of negative comments on the Houston Chronicle article announcing the change. Apparently, we are too sensitive. Apparently, this organization, which serves most of the special needs families in the city, has no right to change this name when the rest of the population, who have little to no interaction with said group, believe we should have tougher skin. In fact, one commenter said the MHMRA is “an entire taxpayer funded organization that apparently wakes up angry and stays that way. Now, to relieve their anger they want to reinvent the English language.” There was also the token reference to why this is Obama’s fault. Basically, I’m gathering that those who oppose eradication of the word “retard” might be a bit dim themselves. Also, don’t ever read comments on a Houston Chronicle article unless you want to completely lose faith in humanity.  But I digress…

My point is to help you understand the power of language. The words we use have a profound impact on those who hear them. Sometimes they help us see beauty, understand love, recognize challenges, or stir compassion and empathy for our fellow man. There are times when our words incite anger or laughter, too, but is your joke at someone else’s expense? What If it was your child? Your sister? Your friend? And honestly, isn’t there a better word for what you’re trying to say?


14 comments:

  1. I was part of the masses who didn't know the significance of that word until about 10 years ago when an acquaintance had a son with DS. Since then, I have felt the need to correct people close to me if they use that word and explain to them why they shouldn't use it. Now that my granddaughter has some issues, that word is on my supersensitive radar and I will continue to do my part to help change the habits of those in my small world. Thanks for the info as I didn't know today was that day!

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  2. As an educator I am surprised that this would not have been on your radar sooner.

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  3. Retard is a word, the definition regards as slow, or delayed. I'm autistic, I have 5 children on the spectrum, including one with an allegedly low IQ. Fact is, since autism has blown up, they are starting to realize intelligence is not measured in one or two paltry tests. For autistics, versus NT (neurotypical), you could say one thinks horizontally, the other vertically. In truth, I think geometrically. Retard only has the power you give it. As does any word. I see where you come from, I really do, but truthfully, making something 'banned' in a sense, does little but give it more power, look at the word nigger, which some smart people morphed to nigga, and they OWNED the word. They chose to give the word a new life, a new meaning. Noone can call me racist, I'm mixed.
    On a newer note, as to the troll saying he is ugly, now THAT is an example of a retarded person. Someone who is stunted in their ability to think freely, and understand others different from himself. Your son is beautiful, and has a smile of gold.

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  4. They are Saints, they are Gods chosen who live among us, to teach us.

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    1. Thats a typical misunderstanding. "Blessed or possessed" People seem to think that they are the way they are because theyre either sent by God or troubled (possessed with demons). Thats ridiculous to say. I do believe in God. But he created us ALL. Ppl with developmental, intellectual or physical "disabilities" just want you to know and realize that we are more alike than you think. Of course, there are no two ppl the same. Just because someone is different from you doesnt been they are "blessed or possessed" Were all different, simple as that.

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  5. They are God's chosen, they are Saints that live among us, to teach us, they are wonderful.

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  6. I work in a group of 12 people with different types of impairments ... They really struggle to use words like disabled, retarded or handicapped (depends on the impairment they have, physical, psychological etc). I for myself actually never see them as disabled or retarded just because someone says so or a doctor diagnosed it. I just see an impairment in their all day life, a hurden, but not a big one. ... Show them how to handle those situation and they do pretty fine, just because everything is made to work with "normal" doesn't mean there's another way to manage those things

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  7. My oldest is 13 and in 8th grade. My youngest is 4 and has autism. My 13 year old is very sensitive to the "R" word.
    This past fall she was at school and her math teacher told all the kids to put away their computers. Some kids were messing around and my oldest giggled The teacher turned and looked at her and said "They are all just so Retarded!" My daughter replied with "you really should not use that word" (proud Momma) but instead of following my daughters direction this teacher tried to validate her comment with "but they are ..." and walked away. When my daughter came home with this story , I hit the roof. This teacher.. this person in charge.. should have more sense.

    We had a meeting and made sure this teacher knew how wrong her words were. She was very sorry and I really hope we helped her understand. Words hurt. My 13 year old is a rock star big sister!

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  8. God bless that 13 year old angel,she has more common sense then some so called adults I have met.

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  9. While I completely respect you and your son, and what you are trying to do for him, don't you think time would be more wisely spent trying to come up with a cure for Down Syndrome than worrying so much about words. There will always be hurtful words in this world. There is nothing we can do to prevent that. As mothers, we just have to educate our kids the best we can and teach them not to base their self-worth on things said by others. And also, be there to pick up the pieces when they are called a mean name or teased. I think promoting a day aimed at raising money to help families affected by Down Syndrome or raise awareness for finding cures or treatments would be time better spent than worrying about a word that is, unfortunately, not going anywhere.

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    1. I think you're missing the point. I would never EVER want to "cure" Down syndrome. It's not a disease and therefore can't be cured. Even if it could, it's actually a part of my son and makes him wonderful in his own way. That's the point of awareness: to dispel myths and educate people about the worth of individuals with Down syndrome, which will never happen if we keep using the word "retard" to insult.

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  10. We are not looking for a cure we just want acceptance.

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  11. Well Said Megan, as a parent with a child with Down Syndrome, we are not looking for a cure but for people to actually understand what Trisomy 21 is and what it isn't and to take the mystery and stereotypes out of it. My son and your are exactly who they were meant to be and deserve the love and respect that any human being deserves. Thank you for your posts...

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  12. I am from New Zealand, and I grew up with people of varying abilities, both mentally and physically. My Aunties used to work as carers in homes for adults with different abilities, who needed either around the clock care or sometimes just assistance getting the day started. My cousin has downs syndrome, and I worked with kids with cerebral palsy when I was in high school as an after school job. All of this experience means that I grew up simply accepting people as people. I went to show and tell on Mondays when I was ten describing going bowling with my Aunty Irene and her friends Ben and Sam. Sam was a big (over six foot!) cuddly teddy bear with delayed intellectual issues, and I adored him. He used to pick me up and put me on his shoulders and tell me I was his King! I knew that he was different, and he was my friend.

    In New Zealand, the word 'retard' doesnt have the same negative connotations as it seems to have to Americans that I have met. I use the word retard in an affectionate, loving way to describe my husband when he does something different to normal. I love that he's not normal and its definitely not an insult. I also appreciated that to other people, the word has different connotations, and thus when my husband and I were working amongst a lot of Americans, we cut down our use of the word in respect, just like we would cut down our swearing out of respect to persons who dont like swearing.

    I dont think that people who are offended by our personal use of the word 'retard' are 'too sensitive'. I have no right to make that judgement. I do expect that the consideration that I show in not using the offending word around those persons goes both ways. In that if you are offended by this word, please take the time to stop and understand why I view this word differently to you. If the consideration goes both ways, then we can all work together to combat the ignorance and bullying that is behind so many words these days.

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