“I hate when my son says that word,” the mom of a 10-year-old griped to me. “I tell him not to, but he keeps using it!” We’d been talking about the word “retard” and how offensive it is to me as the parent of a child with intellectual disability—and to my son, too, even though he does not yet understand the meaning of the word.
Today is a national awareness day for Spread The Word To End The Word, a campaign created by the Special Olympics. Even as parents of kids with special needs have pleaded with others to just use a different word that’s not demeaning, kids and adults still aren’t getting why it’s a crappy word. Doubters claim it’s perfectly fine to use as slang. Others say we’re stomping on their freedom of speech. That we’re being too politically correct. That we’re being overly sensitive.
Thing is, it is personal when people basically equate my son, Max, with a word that means stupid or loser. In case you’re wondering, “mental retardation” was once an accepted clinical diagnosis. It no longer is because the words “retard” and “retarded” have become derogatory, yet the ghosts of its past linger on. When someone jokingly calls a person a “retard” or describes a situation as “retarded,” they perpetuate the stereotype that people with intellectual disability are stupid or uncool.
I told that mom that she might need to better help her son understand why the word is demeaning. And then, in hopes of helping lots of people get it, I asked other parents of kids with special needs to speak their minds—and their hearts—about why the word “retard” is so, so offensive.
These are the reasons they can’t stand the word. Read. Absorb. Understand.
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