It’s not surprising that the “R-word”, or the word “retarded”, is not acceptable in the Down syndrome community. There is a whole movement to erase the word from vocabulary. This movement is called “Spread the Word To End the Word”. Today is national spread the word to end the word day.
A number of my friends have said the word in my presence in the past year and a half. I remember the person and the moment because it hurts. They’re obviously not using the word to describe something nice. They’re using it to relay something negative and undesirable, and this is the same word that has been used in the past to describe my child’s intellect. I say once because the medical community does not use this word anymore, but still, it hurts to hear. It especially hurt those times during my pregnancy, carrying a child some might refer to as “retarded”. For some reason, now that Gigi is here it doesn’t sting as much when people use the word. I forget that she has Down syndrome. I tell myself that the friend probably used the word because my child is so great that they forgot they were in the presence of someone who once would have been called retarded. I’ll bet they didn’t even realize they said the word at all.
I’ve never really felt comfortable with being vocal and preaching about not saying the R word probably because I used to say it myself now and then. Sometimes I still say it in my head. It’s hard to erase a word from your vocabulary. Now all of a sudden I have a child with an intellectual disability and I’m going to preach to everyone to not say the word? I’d feel like a hypocrite.
The other day my 8-year-old came home from school and asked me what the word “retarded” meant. She hadn’t heard the word before but heard someone in her class using it. She said a few kids in her class have been saying it lately. So I had to explain to her what it meant and how it related to Gigi. This made me more angry than when I’ve heard an
adult use the word because I wonder where are these kids getting this language? At home? If they’re not getting it at home I’d imagine they’re at least using it at home. Are they being corrected and told that it is not an appropriate word to use? I hope so but I imagine a family sitting around the dinner table and a child telling a story and using the word retarded, then everyone laughs. Good one. Maybe the parent says “that’s not a nice word”, while laughing. That won’t cut it. So even though I don’t feel comfortable preaching about us adults using the r-word I have no qualms asking you to help me stop our children from using the word. Our children’s generation really shouldn’t know of the word in the first place. So next time you hear them say it, please explain to them why it is not an appropriate word. Here are some reasons (taken from www.r-word.org):
- The word retarded was at one time used to describe someone with intellectual and developmental disability.
- When people use the r-word today they are using it in a negative and derogatory context. This makes it very offensive to people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.
- Using the word hurts.
- Use of the r-word is considered hate speech.