Monday, March 7, 2011

Think Before You Call Someone/Something - Retarded

I can't tell you how often I hear the word - retard.  By friends, family and even - surprisingly - many therapists and special education teachers.  Thrown out casually and often without any real offense.  It's become part of every day vocabulary, a slang term.  I never say anything when I hear the word.  I don't correct people, even though it offends me.  Consider this a warning.  I'm tired of hearing it. 

I admit, it's a word I've used myself. But I'll never forget the day when it was wiped out of my vocabulary.  It was while we were touring schools for The Boy - right after his diagnosis. The Husband and I were in sitting in the waiting room of Harry H. Gordon school (see NYC resources for more info).  Frustrated with my service coordinator, I said, "This whole thing is f***ing retarded."  The Husband looked at me and whispered my name, like I was a little girl being scolded.  I looked at him in surprise. "What?"  I really didn't know.  He then said, "We're in a special needs school..." I remember feeling really ashamed.  For saying it then and for every single time I'd said it.  Especially because I have a younger sister who is diagnosed as Mentally Retarded.

My sister who works at IKEA, goes to the gym five days a week and is a talented artist would never ever use the word retard to insult someone.  Though I doubt she knows the exact term of her disability.   We've always referred to her as being "a little slow."  Quite honestly, I never understood her disability until becoming a parent of a special needs child.

So for someone to use the retard as an insult, is offensive.  Not to the person or thing that is deemed 'retarded,' it's insulting to ALL individuals and family members of ANYONE with special needs.  Mental retardation is an actual disability, it's an IEP classification.  There are parents, care givers and adults fighting for services, for equality.  People with developmental/cognitive disabilities are people worthy of respect.  They are not deserving of ridicule.

So I'll say it again.  Because I've never really said out loud before. The word retard as an insult offends me.  When you use that word - you are offending me.  You are offending my family.  You are offending everything I advocate for.  So please,  think before you speak.  Think before you say the word.  Because ultimately, if you are the "superior cognitive thinker," you can think of an insult without degrading our most vulnerable population.

I hate when this word is said in front of The Boy.  One day he may ask what it means.  And I'll have to explain to him.  The right definition and the wrong definition.  

The people I've met who've been diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum, people with developmental/cognitive delays anddisabilities - are honest, kind, sweet and genuine.  They would never say anything or do anything to intentionally hurt anyone.  They would never consider a disability an insult, but a sense of empowerment, of personal achievement, of defying the odds; there is a pride and  resilience within them.  When you use the word 'retard' to insult someone or something, you take all of that away from them.  So instead of insulting them, maybe we can learn from them.  

[It's late, I'm sleep deprived.  Please excuse any typos - I'll revise in the morning, after coffee.]


  1. You might be interested in this website:

    I actually ended up in a huge debate about this online with some people and it amazes me how people have so many "reasons" and "excuses" to keep using that word any way they want. People definitely need to learn to be more sensitive to others.

  2. The R Word offends me deeply, and I see it often on facebook. Most often said by children of my friends and I want to say something but I can't ..... because I was a kid once too and I used to say the R word too. I am still upset though because my friends know better or they should and so they should be teaching their kids morals, 2011 style morals!!!


AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.