The R word.
I’ve said it. You’ve said it. It’s OK. I don’t beat myself up about it, and you shouldn’t either. But let’s get educated, stop staying it, and encourage others to do the same.
The first Wednesday of every March is Spread the Word to End the Word Day. It’s a day to raise awareness of the many, many reasons you should stop using the R word.
Here’s a little background on the word “retard.”
Retard is slang for “mental retardation” which used to be an acceptable term. In fact, it was official medical terminology. Now, because society began using the word as an insult, it is no longer used medically. Today, the more appropriate term is developmental or intellectual disability or delay.
Speaking as the mother of a child with Down syndrome, here are my reasons you should no longer use this word.
It’s offensive. Most of the times I hear the word “retard” or “retarded” used, it’s for comedy’s sake. I cannot even explain how offensive this is to someone like me, who so deeply loves someone who was born with an intellectual disability. Thomas cannot help that he has Down syndrome, just like people can’t control their skin color. What if someone singled out one of the ways you are different from others and made fun of it to get a laugh? Not cool. Every time I hear this word, I have an emotional AND physical reaction to it. It hurts. I used to think words can’t hurt you (stick and stones, you know?). Not true at all. Words most certainly can hurt.
It’s hateful. The R word is hate speech. It’s just as hateful as any other derogatory word used to describe a minority. Watch this PSA featuring a couple of Glee stars. It explains very well why the R word is hateful.
It’s simply not true. People with intellectual disabilities are not stupid. If you think that or assume that, then you’ve probably not been exposed to many people with IDs. Listen, it’s OK. I was sheltered before Thomas was born, too. But, let me tell you, Thomas is NOT stupid. He is a very smart, loving, fun little boy.
I could go on and on about all the things Thomas does that prove he has a lot going on in that brain of his, but here’s the bottom line. Yes, he may learn at a little slower pace than a “typical” child and need a little extra help along the way, but he is a very smart, very sharp kid.
He understands every word that is said to him. He may not be able to speak words back to you quite yet, but he absorbs and processes everything that is said to him. He is a pro at imitating, and he picks up sign language so fast I can’t keep up with him. He’s communicating in a different way right now than a “typical” 2.5yo might, but he’s communicating nonetheless.
My point: If you think you can say something derogatory toward a person with a disability and that person won’t recognize that you are being mean , then you don’t understand people with disabilities. My child is only 2.5yo, and he knows when someone is being mean. You should see his pitiful pouty face when I have to discipline him for hitting the baby or throwing his food on the floor or coloring on the coffee table. I assure you that a 10yo, 15 yo, or 40yo understands when someone is being hateful.
So, next time the R word is on the tip of your tongue or if you let it slip out of your mouth in conversation, think of my sweet Thomas. Think of the hurtfulness of the R word to him, his family, and others like us. And, please don’t use it again.
Join me in helping to “spread the word to end the word.” Lack of education on the matter is the ONLY excuse to use this word. Educate yourself, and others.
“Everyone has a gift, and the world would be better off if we recognized it.” -Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics