Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I've had a few conversations in the past weeks here in UA and in the weeks previous back home about the word retarded.  Believe it or not, it's actually been removed from the US health descriptions of people that were previously called "mentally retarded" (including all of my disabled kiddos) by a new law called "Rosie's Law".

In recent conversations, there's been the idea of whether we can really shield our kids from everything negative.  People can make fun of them because of their hair color, their weight, or their height... and they can make fun of them for their disabilities.  But removing a word from the general vocabulary of people around us isn't going to help anything.

I understand, but I think differently.

One day my children will understand that the term "retarded" is referring to people like them.  In meeting after meeting at both doctor's offices and schools (and no, I don't think Rosa's Law will make this immediately disappear), people refer to our kids as being mentally retarded.  They will (at least most of them) understand that this term in some way describes them.  And that it doesn't refer to EVERYONE around.

When it's used negatively by someone trying to hurt them, or trying to hurt someone else... there's nothing we can do about it.  Someone trying to be mean WILL be mean.

The problem is... when people use it and don't even THINK about it being something that's insulting or mean.

"That's retarded" or "you're a retard" or "don't be retarded"... these are all things that we hear ALL THE TIME by people around us.  Mostly young people, kidding around with friends.  Sometimes college age 'kids'-- but often times adults as well.

The thing with this is, they don't MEAN to be insulting or rude.  It's simply another word in their vernacular which means "dumb" or "stupid".  But guess what?

My kids aren't dumb or stupid.

Yep... they're not only NOT dumb or stupid, but very soon they will begin to recognize this word, and its meaning, and when the doctors use it to describe them... then the teens that they look up to or a babysitter or a friend uses it derogatorily... they ARE going to wonder.

If that person likes me, why do they call me stupid?  Why do they make fun of their friends by saying their friend is like me?  If they're my friend, my babysitter, my relative, my schoolmate, my parents' friends...  if they're someone close to me, why do they think it's bad to be like me?

How do I know that they'll probably feel this way?  Because I've talked to other kids, teens, and adults that hold that same "mentally retarded" label.  Some with Down syndrome.  Some with other disabilities.  And they DO voice their concerns.  And that IS how they feel.

And so... a challenge.  Catch yourself.  Catch others.  Speak up for those without the 'audience' to speak up for themselves.

If someone's race, gender, or religious beliefs are being used as a common term of "mockery", the group of people it describes generally work together to promote social change and irradicate the word.  Unfortunately, using the word 'retard' or 'retarded' is picking on a group of people who won't generally rally together to make things change...

By definition, "retarded" means "slow."  Our kids have slower development.  It's true!  But it's not something to be intertwined with "stupid," "dumb," or any of the like.

In 2007 this high school student made a speech which explained pretty well how he feels about the word.  He was then invited to present this speech at several other governmental meetings.  Listen.  Share.  And feel free to comment with your thoughts here as well.


  1. I have read so many posts about the use of the word 'retard' and many of the comments excuse the use saying that it doesn't mean what it used to. I disagree...and I cringe when I hear someone use that term. I like the perspective you brought to the use of the word...after reading what you've said, I don't think anyone could think of a reason to excuse the casual use of the word.

  2. I love this Meredith! I wrote a similar post on my blog (although not nearly as eloquently put) around the time that Jennifer Aniston slipped on television. I may link back to this from time to time for others to see if you don't mind. I absolutely love the speech also. I can only hope to teach Alyssa to be so strong at such a young age.
    Here is my post if you want to see it for whatever reason.

    Thinking and praying for you this Thanksgiving. C'mon court date!
    -Lori Free-

  3. I LOVE this. I am 29, and I had a friend in Middle school whose brother had DS. we were sitting in a small group setting and I used the word 'retarded" you know, jokingly. She quickly but nicely responded to me in a manner standing up for her brother and asked me to not use the word again. I THINK in all the years since then it did come out once...and quickly I fixed it. But i wouldn't have changed what I said if SHE didn't stand up for her brother. she also later became a SN school teacher;)

  4. Dear Meridith,
    We are picking up our girls next month, both probably FAS impaired. I know this issue will come up for us, yet I think I will have a different approach. I think there is a distinction between words that were created to insult, such as "spic" or "whore," and words that have been abused. One of the best examples is the word, "bitch." Dog owners steadfastly continue to use the proper term for their female dogs, despite the bastardization of it as a curse word.
    Similarly, I am offended when even our pastor referred to having an "ADD moment" when our ADD son, for whom the condition is no laughing matter, was in the audience. However, going on the rampage against insulting speech is different than trying to eradicate a word that had a proper and respectful start in life. We are doing the same "PC" thing to perfectly fine words like "handicapped," "negro," "dumb" as in "dumb mute," and now "retarded." You admit that your children (and mine) are slower to develop, and thus their development is "retarded." If one persists in being insulted about respectful use of a proper word, I find it to be a divisive and "hoity-toity" response to someone who is genuinely trying to interact with us and our families, and believe a chiding response would be rude. I have the same feeling about adoptive parents who raise an arched eyebrow in response to innocent and friendly questions about their children's status ("They ARE my REAL children!).
    I am reminded about the moment I showed our compassionate and loving 13 yo son pictures of one of our new girls. "Mom, I think she's...(long pause while he tried to find a kind way to say this)...mental." Yes, son, she might be "mental," but we think she'll be OK. We would hope that if we die you and your brothers would be willing to take care of her into old age. Would you be OK with that?" His loving response? "Of course, you know how much I love [insert names of two developmentally delayed friends/relatives]." At this rate, PC speech is going to make it impossible for us to speak accurately about our children. Is "delayed" next on the PC list? It is certainly able to be abused.
    Really, I think we should stick to decrying insulting intent, and not chide respectful speech out of a PC position. I don't think Jesus would have done it, and since you can't stop the insults in our society, it doesn't seem worthwhile to insult one's friends over it. They aren't the problem, and if your children hear such words said in a friendly way from people who love and/or respect them, they probably would not be benefited by hearing you chide the speaker. As you say, at some point they will realize they are delayed, just as my son had to learn to accept and manage his ADD. Challenging these words won't make that day any easier for them.
    God bless,