Tuesday, January 3, 2012

When is "Retarded" an Acceptable Word?



A friend of mine on Facebook took this from a blog and personalized it to speak about her daughter. I copied it and did the same thing to speak about the people in my life who are developmentally delayed or who have autism. I have several family members who are autistic. I hate the word "retarded" and the phrase, "MR" which stands for mentally retarded or mental retardation, which I feel is dehumanizing.

So anyway, if you think "retarded" is "just a word" then I suggest you read on.

All around me, people use the word retarded without a second thought. Sometimes, I’ll say “Um, I don’t like that word,” and they’ll say “Oops, my bad! Sorry, but really I was being retarded.”

Sometimes, I let it slide. I realize that it’s a word that’s ingrained in our society’s vocabulary and people use it without a second thought to its meaning.

But what does it mean to be retarded?

Well, I know what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean not being able to choose something for lunch despite 100 choices in front of you. It doesn’t mean not being able to find your car keys. It doesn’t mean saying the wrong thing to a person. It doesn’t mean forgetting your best friend’s birthday. It’s not something to describe yourself as when you’ve spilled your coffee, or tripped on a crack in the sidewalk. It’s not something to describe your computer, car or phone.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary the word “retarded” means - slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress.

For me, it’s not just A word

In our home, being retarded means something different. It means not being able to fully care for yourself. It means not understanding what the doctor is going to do for you. It means not being able to explain what hurts when something hurts. It means not being able to ride a two wheeler. Or read. Or ever be able to live on your own.

But ever the optimist, I also know what retarded means. It means never realizing the negativity behind the word retarded, never knowing the insensitivity surrounded the word’s usage, never realizing the ignorance of people or never knowing how other people view you.

Being retarded also means loving unconditionally, finding joy in the smallest of things, being self-confident, not realizing that there are limitations, and innocence.

I have several family members, including a cousin with autism, and friends who are diagnosed as developmentally delayed, which means retarded. When you call yourself retarded, you’re also calling my family members/friends with developmental delays stupid because you use the word as just that – another form of stupid.

In their own way, people with developmental delays are very smart. Maybe smarter than us at times. They have more self-confidence than anyone I know who’s called themselves “retarded”. They are the best judge of a person’s character than anyone else I’ve ever known. Yes, they are slow to learn things. But they are not stupid.

Let’s get something straight here. Some of these family members and friends I mentioned may have cognitive issues. They may have delays. Several of them live on their own with outside help, but the others will never live on their own, but they are NOT stupid.

I know that most people don’t use the word “retarded” maliciously. Most people I know use it in a self-depreciating way. And when I point it out, they go “Oh wow! I’m sorry!” and they truly feel like a heel. The thing is, you’re still using it in the way that people who do use it maliciously use it as – to describe stupidity.

So why not just use the word “stupid” instead? Because I know what “retarded” is. I live with it through family members and friends. And in our world “retarded” doesn’t equate to “stupid”.

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