Thursday, May 17, 2012

The "R" Word

Something on my heart.

The other day, Grandma and I took Luke down to the little playground a few houses down.  There were two little girls I didn't know swinging on the swings.

"Ing!  Ing!  Ing!" happens to be the newest and best thing Luke has to say to us, and so I was pushing his gleeful little self in the infant swings.  It was a really pretty day, and Luke was flirting with Grandma and cackling with joy and I just took in just how precious those little simple joys are.

And then I heard the one little girl say to the other girl, "Don't be so retarded."

I couldn't help it.  I'd love to say it was the teacher in me, and maybe a bit of it was, but the mother in me couldn't hold back.

"Oh, that's not a very nice word, sweetheart."

I threw the girls off, I think, by even talking to them, much less sort of chastising them.

I went on, because they were both looking at me as if I should.

"I'm sure you don't really mean it to be not very nice, but it's not a nice thing to say to someone."

"Why not?" asked the little girl who was being told NOT to be retarded.

"Because a lot of times, people use it in a mean way to talk about other special people who can't protect themselves or defend themselves.  Some people mean it in a really mean way because it makes fun of people who are different than we are.  I know you and your friend don't mean it that way, and you probably didn't even know it could be meant that way, but I wanted to be sure you knew so you don't hurt anyone's feelings when you don't mean to."

"Oh," they both said, sort of in unison, and continued to swing.  Then the one little girl started to tell the other she could speak French.  In an accent and with enunciation that makes me instantly think of National Lampoon's European Vacation, she mangled the phrase, "Parlez vous Francais?" and they went on with their conversation, punctuated every few minutes with making goo-goo eyes at Luke.

Lesson noted.  They moved on to a new topic instantly.  Without any hesitation.

As a teacher, I've seen my fair share of children who would be dubbed with the "R" word and I can tell you that there are few experiences more rewarding than working with special needs children.  I've NEVER allowed my students to bully one another for any reason, and CERTAINLY not children with special needs because their needs made them different.

My great Aunt was a precious woman I adored...she lived to be 70 and had Down's Syndrome.  Born in 1919, her family was basically told to institutionalize her and be done with her.  Thank God I come from a line of people who would sooner eat raw alligator eyeballs than dismiss ANY life.

John's uncle has pretty profound Asperger's.  He has had some rough times in his life, due to ignorance and ridiculous treatments, but again, his family would never allow anyone to discount the importance of his life simply because it was so, so different.

I am heartbroken when I read (far too often, I might add) about women who have persevered through fertility treatments, only to get pregnant and then find out their child had Down's Syndrome and they decided to abort.  Please know I am not judging...I cannot imagine what the thought and heart process must be to come to that decision.

But seriously???

Had Matthew lived, we would be looking at some really, really profound issues.  SERIOUS issues.  The kind where you walk by the kid in the chair or whatever, watch his mom as she is drying his chin from all the drool, and you think, "Poor, poor kid."

We would have taken that in a HEARTBEAT.  We would have cherished every single second we could have had with that precious boy, regardless of the condition he was in, and I would have defied a soul to count his life as anything less than the miraculous life I know it to be.

So I get really, really upset when kids today so callously throw that "R" word around...because it is up to stop it.

To stop our children from bullying others because they are different.

To prevent our children from being ok with being hard-hearted.

Stop them from finding joy in hurting others with their words and actions.

Now honestly, those little girls really didn't seem to even know what they were saying.  Their innocence in understanding why it was an ugly word was soooo apparent.

And proves how easy it is to just instill in our children (and in us, really...think about any time you've made a joke about the short bus, or someone being a pancake short of a stack, or know what I am talking about) how to be kind.

How to accept.

How to eradicate that word and others like it that imply that mental/physical deficits make one a lesser person.

Less human.  Less worthy of love.

Because I'll tell you this...I'd give my eye teeth to have had my little boy live.  My boys live.  No matter what conditions they may have had.

And that words like 'retarded' are still used the way they are just makes my stomach sick.

Just had to get that off my heart.


  1. Amen Lori!!! I hate the "R" word.

  2. AMEN! My nephew has Down's and I have had to have this same conversation with GROWN ADULTS! Who KNEW what they were saying! So sad...

  3. Thank you for taking this stand Lori, and for posting this post! Having a sister with cerebral palsy, this is something that is near and dear to my heart. My kids, and their friends know that this word is not allowed in our home. It should not be allowed anywhere, but it seems as though the only small bit of control I have centers around my home.

    My parents NEVER had to have this discussion with us - because we knew what it meant to be "retarded", and it's obviously not a choice. My sister was special, and I knew it from a very young age. My mom to this day tells the story of our family shopping in Kmart - I was probably about 5 and my sister was 2. A mother told her child to stop acting "retarded". I walked up to her and told her that we do not use that word and it's not very nice and she should not either. Imagine being corrected by a 5 year old!!!

    These are the children nearest and dearest to God's heart - the way you treat a special needs child, is the way you are treating God's own heart!

    Thank you for posting this!!!


  4. First, thank you for having the courage to correct these girls. I'm sure they did not understand the meaning the "R" word and how destructive it can be. And too often, people will look the other way on the basis that they don't want to interfere. You handled yourself very and those girls learned WHY using the "R" word is not appropriate. Thank you.

    Regarding people's decision to raise a child with a disability: I'll start out by saying that I have never been put into this situation where I would even have to consider options. In addition, I've worked with special needs adults and teenagers. Both of which has been very rewarding and a great lesson in life. Because of this work, though, I no longer judge someone's decision to terminate a pregnancy of a special needs child. The reality is, it is life changing and most people are unable to make the necessary sacrifices to raise these children. I've seen too many of these wonderful individuals who suffer from neglect, abandonment and abuse. While I worked with a crew that was able to provide a more stable environment as well as love and support, the damage done from the birth families was usually irreversible.

    By no means am I suggesting that someone with a special needs child terminate a pregnancy (and those who do so time and again make my stomach turn), but I also know that it's important to be honest during this process.

  5. as an OT and a mom, and someone who believes that EVERYONE deserves to be loved and adored for who they are... rock on Lori. great post and good for you for saying something to the girls!! hopefully it stays with them :)

  6. As a child and young teenager, there was a girl in my Girl Scout troop with Down's. I learned early on how derogatory "retarded" is.

    Now I'm in the middle of IVF #4. #1 stuck for 9 weeks. Genetic testing results told us the cause was Down's. I've been doing some research since then, to figure out why the percentage of babies born with Down's is dropping. The answer that seems so obvious makes my stomach turn... abortions. Many Down's babies are aborted.

  7. I think the strides our culture has made to be accepting of various differences is to be encouraged, but I sometimes think that we are ultimately going to run out of words. The problem is that people act toward a disabled person much like a bird that pushes a defective egg out of the nest. That instinct, which should be fought, just as we fight the instinct to murder competitors, causes people to treat any word used to describe such persons with contempt. Because of PC attempts to eliminate a tainted word rather than the instinct behind the taint, has caused us to abandon perfectly fine and descriptive words such as retarded, handicapped and even Mongoloid, although I agree with abandoning the last one. However, lots of terms describe a situation, such as using negro to describe a dark skinned person, and that use, of itself, is not bad. Instead of fighting the word, we need to fight the behavior, which those little girls were demonstrating. You should see how my teen sons use the word "special." It would make you cringe. But respectful use of the R word should not be criticized. All we have really done is try to use big words that don't roll off the tongue easily to describe a situation that does need words, and now we all sound ridiculous in IEP meetings. Retarded just means slow, and believe me, my FAS daughter is extremely slow to pick some things up. Funny, my sons adore their adopted sister, but they still misuse lots of words!

  8. What a brilliant post, thanks for writing this. We have recently had a friend (a regular fertile) who has aborted their Down's baby and it really breaks my heart.
    Happy ICLW :)