Wednesday, March 7, 2012

It's Not Just Another Word

"That's so retarded."

How many times have you heard someone say this, or some variation of this?

Pretty often, I'd imagine. Because I've heard it too. From everyone. It's not a figure of speech flung by teenagers. I've heard this from former coworkers.

From our friends.

From our family.

You've heard it and I've heard it. And, it is just a matter of time before my son, who has autism, hears it too.

Maybe he already has. He's in 4th grade; it's quite possible. It's possible that he's even heard it in reference to him.

Someday he'll ask me - because he always asks me; he is full of questions, especially about words - what that word means. He's like that, curious about words. Their meanings, their spellings, how and why they are used.

And I have no idea what I will say.

I'll probably explain it to him similarly as I did when I told him he has autism. Trust me, as a parent, you get intimately acquainted with a special kind of heartbreak when you get to tell your little boy that his brain works differently, that he has something called autism, that even the best doctors don't quite exactly know why you were born with this, that this is the reason why some people don't understand why you act differently than other kids, that you will have this (to some degree) to the rest of your life.

You want to hold him and protect him for the rest of his life as his blue eyes fill with tears, absorbing this. You know that you can't.

You know that that word and the people who use it so casually and cavalierly are out there. Closer than you think.

I don't really understand the logic behind using this word. I've heard the reasons (and excuses, really) why it happens.
It's just a figure of speech. It means stupid. 
I don't know what I was thinking. 
Oh, I wasn't referring to YOUR son. 
Lighten up. It's just a word.
It's not just a word. Trust me on this.

It is Not. Just. Another. Word.

For in the minds and hearts of those with developmental disabilities and those of us who love them, it is a word with searing-hot and flame-red qualities. Hearing it hurts my heart, physically. It is a dagger, a rifle. Call me a dramatist, but in my mind and in my view, it is the verbal equivalent of rape.

I cannot explain the pain this word causes unless I am talking with other parents of special needs. It is a certain kind of pain that you only understand if you love someone with a disability, regardless of that disability.

And chances are, you probably know someone who has a disability. Even if they're good at hiding it, even if it is a disability on the inside, in the deepest corners of their minds. So, if it helps, think about that person who you love when calling something or someone retarded.

Or, if you know our family personally or even through my blog or the funny Facebook quotes and conversations of his that I post, think about my little boy, who will soon be asking me why someone called him this name.

And then tell me how you would answer him.

Because I don't have the words.

From Spread the Word to End the Word's Facebook page: Spread the Word to End the Word is an ongoing effort by Special Olympics, Best Buddies International and our supporters to raise the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the word “retard(ed)” and encourage people to pledge to stop using the R-word. 

The campaign, created by youth, is intended to engage schools organizations and communities to rally and pledge their support. Most activities are centered annually in March, but people everywhere can help Spread the Word throughout their communities and schools year-round thru pledge drives, youth rallies and online activation. 

The effort is spearheaded by college students, Soeren Palumbo (Notre Dame 2011) and Tim Shriver (Yale 2011), and led by young people, Special Olympics athletes and Best Buddies partners across the country. Celebrity activist John C. McGinley of the hit show “Scrubs” is a spokesperson for the campaign. Respectful and inclusive language is essential to the movement for the dignity and humanity of people with intellectual disabilities. However, much of society does not recognize the hurtful, dehumanizing and exclusive effects of the word “retard(ed).”

It is time to address the minority slur “retard” and raise the consciousness of society to its hurtful effects.

copyright 2012, Melissa, The Betty and Boo Chronicles If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Lisa Gradess Weinstein said...

Hi Melissa, it is interesting that at one point in time, I don't think the word "retarded" was used as an insult. Case in point, there are still some state agencies that provide services to those with disabilities that are called MHMR - Mental Health Mental Retardation. Over time people have changed the meaning of the word and it has become very offensive - I hope these agencies follow suit and change their name to be more respectful of those with developmental disabilities. At Bayada we care for a number of clients with developmental disabilities, and are always acting as advocates for them. I will share this information with my colleagues.

Kathy Radigan said...

I'm so glad Lisa told me of your blog and of this piece. This is a gorgeous essay. I too have a child with a developmental disability. The R word is painful to us as well. I hope that essays such as yours will help shed some light on how much pain this word can cause. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

You really had the nerve to say that the word retard is the equivalent to RAPE?!

I won't call you a dramatist. I don't have to. You already know that you are, and more.

As for what to tell your kid when he comes home after someone calls him a retard? You tell him the same thing that every other parent tells their kid when someone teases them for whatever reason. That it is simply a word that was used to try to make you feel bad BUT you can only feel bad if you allow yourself to feel bad. Stop playing victim and teaching your kid to be a victim too

Equivalent to rape.....I am shaking my head in DISGUST at you, along with everyone else with any common sense. Grow up!