A Mom Stands Up To Teens Who Use The Word “Retard”


October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month. This guest post is by Hallie Levine Sklar, a mom of three who blogs over at Visions of Johanna.

“That kid’s a retard. A total f**g retard.”

I froze mid-motion when I heard those words. I’d left my husband with our three small children so I could have some time alone at our town pool to swim some laps.

As I’d walked in, I’d seen a bunch of teenage male lifeguards by the snack bar, snickering. I hadn’t bothered to pay attention to them until their voices reached me.

“That kid’s a retard,” one of them was shouting, a boy with white blonde hair and ears that stuck out from his head like Dumbo’s. “A total f**g retard.” He thrust his hands and tongue out, rocking back and forth with a Frankenstein like gait. “I can’t stand him. I mean, how f**g retarded can you be?”

Then he saw me. His eyes widened and his mouth opened and closed again and again, like a crazed dying guppy. He slowly lifted his right hand, waving it back and forth at me in a pathetic attempt to say hi.

“Oh s**t,” I heard another one of the lifeguards say.

You see, my eldest daughter, Johanna—who is 3 ½—has Down Syndrome. Fifty years ago she would have been labelled as “mentally retarded” and my husband and I would have been told to shunt her off to an institution. Thankfully, we live in a more enlightened world today, where the doctors and therapists who work with Jo Jo label her “developmentally delayed” and rave about her potential.

I don’t often hear the word retarded anymore, but when I do I cringe. Before Jo Jo were born, my husband and I often threw around the r word. We’re both type A people with limited patience, and when someone didn’t move fast enough to meet our needs—whether it was the cashier at our supermarket or the customer service rep on the phone—we’d roll our eyes and mumble, “retard.” We loved Family Guy and South Park and every other show that poked fun at people who didn’t meet our intellectual standards. I remember being eight months pregnant with Johanna and watching a scene in Borat where Sascha Barot Cohen (aka Ali G) horrifies the other guests at a dinner party by talking about his “retarded” brother who was kept in a cage. I laughed so hard I wet my pants.

Then our daughter was born and everything changed. Once we got over the shock of the diagnosis, we fell in love with our baby, with her wisps of red hair and little rosebud mouth and huge almond-shaped hazel eyes that crinkled up when she smiled. Somehow, the word retard was no longer humorous. It was blatantly, obscenely offensive.

I could tell the boy was mortified to have been caught saying the r word in front of Jo Jo’s mom. All the lifeguards at our pool know who Johanna is—besides being insanely cute with her French braids and Ralph Lauren pink bikinis she became famous (well maybe infamous) this past July when she made a huge number two in the toddler pool that blasted through her swim diaper.

A few moms were sitting with their kids at the picnic tables, watching me closely, and I  realized with a sick feeling in my stomach that they all wanted to see how this scene would play out. Part of me—a really big part—just wanted to keep walking over to the competition pool and swim my laps like nothing had happened. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did that. I sighed and walked over to the lifeguards. “I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that as the mother of a child with a disability, I find your use of the word retard horrifying and offensive,” I said to the boy.

He blushed, making the blotches of acne on his face even redder. “No ma’am,” he said. “You don’t.”

“For the record, I don’t find the word retarded itself problematic—taken literally, it means to go more slowly,” I said. I tried to keep my voice calm and level, even though I really wanted to slap him across the face. “But it’s people like you, who use the word in a derogatory manner that I find offensive.” I turned around and walked away.

I got into the pool and fiercely began swimming laps. I knew the pool was 25 meters, so I began mentally calculating how many laps would equal a mile. When I’d finished and walked, dripping, through the main entrance, the boy stepped out in front of me. “I just want you to know,” he said, “I’m really, really sorry, and I won’t ever use that word again.”

My head was pounding. I wasn’t sure if it was from the chlorine or simply from having to deal with a situation I didn’t want to be in.

“I think your daughter is adorable,” he added. His eyes were blinking rapidly and with his long pale eyelashes he looked for a moment like a large terrified rabbit. “I wasn’t thinking of her when I said it. Honestly.”

“I’m sure you weren’t,” I said. “But think about her every time you’re tempted to say the word retard.”

“I will,” he said solemnly. “I would never, ever want to hurt her feelings.” I wondered if he was sincere or if he was worried I’d complain about him and quash his chances of scoring the same cushy job next year.

I guess I have too much other stuff going on in my life to worry about what’s going through some adolescent’s brain. But as I walked to my car, I kept thinking about that word, and how scornful and ugly the boy’s mouth had looked as he said it.

I don’t want to think about a decade from now, when someone will say it spitefully in front of my daughter and I will watch her face crumble as she grasps the implications of the word.

I’m just glad that she wasn’t with me at that moment, and that she’s still too young to understand. I can only hope that by the time Johanna reaches puberty, the term retard will have gone the way of other unfortunate trends like big hair or acid washed jeans—that is, it will have become obsolete.

Photo/Amy Postle


Related posts from my other blog: 

If you ask people not to use the word “retard”

If you tick off a lot of people by asking them not to use the word “retard”

Tracy Morgan compares boys with disabilities to chimps. That’s funny? 

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  1. by Liz McLennan

    On October 13, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Oh, wow. You did right, Mama. For what a stranger’s opinion is worth – you did right.

    I am awed by how well you kept your cool. Am surprised but heartened that he waited to apologize and imagine that he will indeed think of your daughter every time the “R” word is spoken/whispered/thought.

    I too, am learning to rid my own speech of words that hurt, misinform. It’s not easy, but is so worth it.

  2. by Ali

    On October 13, 2011 at 9:51 am

    I’m like you. It’s a word that has been in our family’s vocabulary forever. However, I banned it this year. I will let my husband say every other word in the English language, but that word is outlawed for exactly this reason. I have a huge problem with it. On another note, I’d like to think the boy is sincere in his apology and this will be a lesson that is so valuable for him in life. I think people say it without ever putting a face (like your daughter’s or ANYONE else) on it. I’m glad he said it and I’m glad YOU heard. You put him in his place and undoubtedly the other boys with him saw what happened. Lessons learned, I’m sure!

  3. by Bobbie

    On October 14, 2011 at 8:47 am

    I have a son with DS and I too am offended by people who use this word or for that matter any word that puts down someone because of their belief or race or their disability. I think I would have probably went a step further and made that boy appologize to that boy but that just me because it is not just about our children and people with DS but it is about all children and people of all disabilities and he needs to know that. That boy he was making fun of was little once too.

  4. by Jennifer Kupferschmid

    On October 14, 2011 at 9:07 am

    I too have a daughter with down sydrome, and had a similar incident last winter. I had my 3 yr old “typical” child with me when a woman in the grocery store parking lot was spewing that the girl who packed her bags shouldnt work there because she’s a “retard”. My blood boiled! I too chose to seize the moment & teach my 3 yr old that her language is unacceptable. I even wrote a letter to the editor of our paper trying to spread awareness!! Many prayers to your daughter. She has a good mama :)

  5. by Sherry Huang

    On October 14, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Super powerful post – what shocked me was that the other moms didn’t do a thing!

  6. by Julie Clancy

    On October 14, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Im sorry you had to go through that. You handled it quite well. I also have a special needs daughter (5 yrs old at the time) We were walking through a store one day & a little girl who was with her mother walked up to me right in front of my daughter & asked if she was a retard! I was appaled so I said she should go talk to her mother about what she just said, hoping her mother would get the hint as to what her daughter just did. I wish I coulld have handled it better I guess it just threw me.

  7. by Christina Sly

    On October 14, 2011 at 10:02 am

    As a mother of a child with a mental disability and autism I understand where you are coming from. I do not allow my family to use the R word. In our house it’s as bad as swearing. The sad thing is so many people open their mouths before thinking. My 12 year old daughter is always sticking up for her disabled brother. We were at Walmart and her brother Mikey was being his normal loud lovable self. An older gentleman looked at Mikey and said look at the little retard! Before I could say a word my daugher looked at him and said my brother is disabled only retards use the word retards. The man asked me if I was going to allow my daugher to speak to him like that and I told him that my daughter was just trying to stand up for his brother because he couldnt stand up for himself. It’s people like him that make rude comments that makes her feel like she needs to stand up for him. He walked away and I hope that made his think before opening his mouth and saying something that could hurt someone’s feelings in the future.

  8. by Jennie B

    On October 14, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Good for you for standing up! I’ve never been a fan of the word, but as the parent of a child with autism, it does mean more when I hear it now. I think the fact that this boy cringed at all when you walked by showed that he realized he shouldn’t have said it. He was showing off for his friends, and I think you handled this well. But I agree with Bobbie, above. It is ultimately about the person with the disability.

    I still watch South Park. Sometimes we have to laugh at our own humanity, and they seem to be equally offensive to everyone :)

  9. by Anne

    On October 14, 2011 at 11:16 am

    People are just insensitive and seem to find it funny to make generalizations about certain conditions, disabilities, whatever. I’m bipolar and sometimes when I hear someone talk about people who are moody or unpredictable by saying, “God, my girlfriend is so bipolar, I never know what I’m going to get into trouble for next,” I just want to pull my hair out. Of course, looking at me, well medicated and quite stable, they think I’ll find it funny. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to flatly state, “I’m bipolar.” They don’t understand the dark, suicidal weeks and the horrible racing thoughts of the manic times. It’s just a funny little way of making fun of some moody person (which Glee, an ostensibly inclusive show, did).

    I guess my point in this is, if you said, “Oh my god, did you see that guy? He looks like such an effing cancer survivor,” no one would laugh. Sensitivity goes a long way.

  10. by Michael K

    On October 14, 2011 at 11:31 am


    Yes, I know many of you will find this insensitive, but something to keep in mind is that comment was in no way directed at you or your child.

  11. by Kim

    On October 14, 2011 at 11:43 am

    I admire your will to explain how you felt and point out what the word means to you, and I imagine how difficult it must have been to keep an even tone, given how you were feeling.

    I’ve one thought to share… you mentioned having too much going on to wonder “what’s going through some adolescent’s brain.” Probably nothing. I mean, until you pointed out that the word actually has meaning and is very offensive to real live people that he knows, he probably never thought it through. I’d like to believe he’ll never use the word again. And I’d like to thank you, and everyone (including the post above who wrote the letter to the editor – great idea), who can passionately spread awareness without shaming the people who don’t yet “get it” on their own.

  12. by Jennifer Overdorff

    On October 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    my younger brother, now 30, and my beautiful little girl, 8,both have DS. I grew up cringing at the R word and trying to educate others… It is nice to hear that boy apologize. No one ever ‘means it like that’ but that is what it means…think before you speak!

  13. by Rose

    On October 14, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    I stopped using the word “retarded” in a derogatory manner around the same time I stopped using “gay” in the same way. It was hard at first to break the habit, but I found that if I said “ridiculous” in its place, it helped a lot. I tend to put my foot in my mouth enough as it is; I don’t need to be using insensitive, derogatory language.

  14. by Brad

    On October 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    What the boy said was very hurtful and it was good of you to talk to him as you did. When you question the sincerity of his shame and apology, criticize his job, and label and categorize him as “people like him” you really are no different than him. And yes I do care for a family member with very severe brain damage.

  15. by ann hesser

    On October 14, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    way to go! We have a daughter who is now almost 23.with Down Syndrome.. I never let it go by if I hear the r word.. I was so proud of my college daughter who upon hearing a PROFESSOR in college(!) use it she went up to him afterwards and said how offensive it was to hear him use this word… Needless to say he was very very sorry… and yes some of those other mothers should have gotten off their A@##$$es to say something. You are a wonderful mom and will be a strong advocate throughout your daughters life!!!!!

  16. by JP

    On October 14, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    My 5 yr old has DS, and my oldest in in the 7th grade. She went through hell last yr telling other kids it is not ok to use the word “retard”…so move on to 7th grade this yr and she is in a new school district…her 2nd week of school the word “retard” is on her antoynoym list meaning speed up….I freaked out and got blown off by the super of the school district…there is no way that a 12 yr old , or any other age for that matter, uses the “r” word in any way but a demeaning and deragotory manner. think that by it being on the list will give the kids the ok to say it bc it is a vocab word…..NO WAY!

  17. by The power of words | I shall be a toad

    On October 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    [...] Levine Sklar told her readers at Parents.com that she “cringes” when she hears the word retarded. She’s not the only [...]

  18. by Babs

    On October 15, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Unfortunately, most teens think it’s okay to use the “r” word without any consequence. So do a lot of adults, it seems — if I had a dime for every time I heard an adult say “that’s so retarded” or “I’m such a retard for not being able to have done that,” etc., I could retire early. As the sister of a brother who has autism and is developmentally disabled, I don’t use this word and need to be bolder and tell others it’s just not okay to say such things. And for those who think we’re being “politically correct, too sensitive, ” etc., are you that okay to use other derogatory terms for various ethnic groups, etc.?

  19. by Charles

    On October 15, 2011 at 9:45 am

    What kind of consequence would you like for using language YOU find offensive? This notion that language should have consequences is idiotic. You either respond in kind and lower yourself to them by attempting to control their behavior or you be the adult and just ignore it.

    The fact that someone is offended by language of all things is no ones problem but their own. Avoid the people and places that offend you and you will no longer feel burdened by the want to be an insufferable jerk and tell me what I am and am not allowed to say.

  20. by Samantha

    On October 15, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Sorry to point this out ladies, but of the 14 responses on this subject the two from Charles and Michael are the only rational responses. Being offended by what other people say shows a lack of intelligence. I ask people to not use vulgar profanity in front of my young children and I will express my disappointment to people being rude and mean to the defenseless. However, there is not one thing that you could say that would offend me. You can talk about my husband, my dead father, any one of my five children and you can not offend me, I have control over my own mind. Ladies, get control over your minds.

  21. by Edward

    On October 16, 2011 at 9:01 am

    I have talked to my kids about using these types of words. As i was growing up my best friend had a brother who was severely autistic and hearing that bothers me, as i would like to think our society is better than that.

  22. by K.C.

    On October 16, 2011 at 10:36 am

    “Then our daughter was born and everything changed.” You do realize of course that the only thing that actually changed was your perspective. The r-word, in the context you describe, has always been ugly and offensive, even when it was coming out of your mouth.

    I am glad that you no longer use the r-word, and I’m glad that you spoke up.

    At the same time, advocating for sensitivity toward your daughter while mocking another youth’s “Dumbo” ears and drawing attention to his acne undermines the message. I hope that your children don’t have to grow into awkward teenagers with skin problems before you realize that those comments are mean too. We should model the kindness and compassion we expect from others.

  23. by Jenna

    On October 17, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I’m sympathetic because it must be very difficult for someone who is a parent (or relative or friend) of someone with learning difficulties, developmental delays or similar condition.

    But keep in mind that the words idiot, imbecile and moron were all terms for different levels of what we now call “mental retardation”; and most people have no qualms whatsoever about using those words when people behave less than intelligently. It is likely the derogatory use of “retarded” will long outlast it’s accepted psychological use, and a new generation of politically correct terms will in turn be abused as insults.

  24. by Sarah Baldwin

    On October 17, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Your post brought tears to my eyes. My brother, who was three years younger than I, was born with Down Syndrome and died at two of leukemia.

    When I was about seven years old, my grandfather heard me use the word retarded and gave me a tongue lashing, reminding me that my dear beloved brother Anthony was born “retarded” and that it was a hateful and hurtful word, and that he never wanted to hear it from me again.

    I felt as ashamed as the teenager in your story. Not only have I not used the word in a derogatory manner since, but I, too, have come to bristle in anger whenever I hear children (or worse, adults!) use the word. Thank you for speaking out, not only to that teen, but publicly as well.

  25. by Bob

    On October 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    My best friend has a son with d/s. My “other” son can teach us all a lesson on unconditional love. That said, I don’t get quite so up in arms at the “r” word. Not any more than I do about the “f” bomb! Since when did adults,not, have to dress down teenagers every once in a while. Yea,they say a lot of stupid stuff. That’s what makes them teens and our job as adults is to “educate” them. Even as adults, how many of us never say anything that isn’t offensive to someone. Educate sure, but let he who is without sin cast the first stone

  26. by Geria Wright

    On October 18, 2011 at 10:32 am

    I believe the mother did good in bringing awareness to how a word meant to describe a disability has now become a slur. However, in the name of political correctness, no has the right to feel they need to correct a person if they mention the word in polite conversation. For example, someone may say “she or he suffers from Mental Retardation.” Why should that person be corrected or attacked? I am a black woman and I had attended a predominately white church, and an elderly white woman referred to me as a colored girl. I did not correct or attack her? I realized she came from a different time and era.

  27. by Haley

    On October 19, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    I’m sure that teenager was very sincere when he apologized to you. And he probably will never use that word again. Every time he hears it, he will think of your sweet daughter’s face and how truly mortified he was for saying it. Maybe even enough to tell other kids about how awful it felt to use that word. There are many jerky teens, but there are also a lot of good kids who make stupid decisions or act the fool with their friends. I understand how angry you were with him – rightfully so – but I think you also should realize you handled the situation great. And, after his awful mistake, he did too.

  28. by Marleen Bruurs

    On October 21, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I love to watch those beautiful children. In The Netherlands (Europe) Eva made a book with pictures of children wtih Down Syndrom. Know she is working on a book with pictures and stories from teenagers with Down syndrom.

  29. by Anna

    On October 26, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    I think it was a good lesson for him to learn. I do wonder how you can act so righteous as you used the word in the same manner (and, it seems, to people who did not deserve it!). Although I can be impatient, I would never say that to someone trying to do their job, or anyone else for that matter. I have not used the word retard in a derogatory manner since elementary school and it turns my stomach everytime I hear it used like that. I think in the future you should still speak up – but remember how cruel you and your husband were to others in the not so distant past.

  30. by Sarah M.

    On October 27, 2011 at 7:21 am

    I am not jumping on the praise-you bandwagon, because I find this article incredibly hypocritical. It was FINE for you to find this word hilarious, use this word frequently–until it affected YOU. I guess you never had the benefit of some mother hashing you out before your pregnancy. No, it had to affect YOU, PERSONALLY, before you could bother to see the offense of the word.

    I call foul here, and no amount of flaming or dismissive comments will sway me from this stance. Hindsight is 20-20, I suppose; but the correct way to approach this lifeguard (who is still a kid himself, BTW,) is to descend from the previous place of self-righteousness and admit to him that you were once a fan of that word. That, you are NO BETTER than he is. He was correct to apologize, and I think you should, too.

    Having a DS child does not give you the right to instantly adopt a holier-than-thou attitude toward everyone else, and hide who you used to be.

  31. by Kim

    On October 27, 2011 at 7:30 am

    So, what the author is saying is, someone should have stood up to her at one time?

  32. by Kristen

    On October 27, 2011 at 7:50 am

    I was in tears reading this: for you, as the mom, for your daughter, and for the other children/parents who need to deal with similar situations. I am so impressed and thrilled that you stepped forward and talked with him in such a calm, rational manner. I truly believe this is a lesson he will not forget. Whether or not he thinks JoJo is adorable and did not mean her, he will always remember the shame of having his actions brought to his attention. This may not only keep him from talking like that in the future, it may help him stop and think before he says other offensive things. Thank you.

  33. by Aimee

    On October 27, 2011 at 7:54 am

    I have to agree with Jenna and the others who share her opinion. As I read this I couldn’t help but notice that you made fun of the teenager while trying to prove the point that making fun of people is wrong and certain words are offensive. A bit hypocritical in my opinion. I grew up with ears that were a little bigger than average and was called “dumbo” in elementary and middle school. We can’t police what comes out of the mouths of others. I can understand why you feel the way you do about the word “retard” but you admitted that you used that word until YOU found it offensive. I do not condone the use of the word, but I find it just as offensive that you made fun of the ears on a child just as much as you were offended by “dumbo” ears using the word “retard”.

  34. by Aimee

    On October 27, 2011 at 7:55 am

    Correction….It is KC that I share the opinion of. I didn’t mean to put Jenna’s name. Sorry.

  35. by Mariel

    On October 27, 2011 at 7:56 am

    I liked this article I found it nice. I have two daughters, and neither of them have any disabilities, but I can’t imagine the hurt it would feel to watch my children hurt by the words of others for stuff that is out of their control. A lot of the posts here had different and good points, but there was two or three that just seemed kinda off.

    How can you not be offended by something someone says about your loved one? That is not “controlling your mind” that is called having a cold heart. If someone says something bad about my fiance, my mother father sister or brothers, ESPECIALLY my children… I will be offended and take it to heart because I LOVE them. You can’t love someone and not be offended if someone says something negative about them especially if they have a disability.

    Another thing is words can be offensive. They should not be teaching such words in school, and to those who use those words should get punished like my school did. If we said the F’ word or any other crude and ugly word. Those who said words like “retard” in a negative way were pointed out in class and lectured and usually sent out of the room.

  36. by Aleta

    On October 27, 2011 at 8:04 am

    Good Job!!
    I began working with people with developmental Disabilities about 6 years ago, I had known for a long time I would be in this feild, but I always thought I would work with children, but I ended up working with adults, most older than myself, so of who had at one time or another been in an institution, Now most of them living wonderfully fullfilling lives, some still struggle but that is where my organization comes in.
    Before taking this job I never knew about Person First langugage….He was Autistic, or she was Epipleptic, never realizing I was putting their disability before who they were as a person. Now I am a vigalanity of sorts especially around those closest to me…I do not TOLERATE the R word (not even a little). I have gotten My brother to a point that if it starts to slip he actually smacks his own mouth and aplogizes. I try to make him understand, no need to apologize to me, but it is unfair to lump the IDIOTS of the world in with the people I work with. I even get on my Step Mother for calling her self and Epileptic. I stand up for what I believe and I believe we are all people first and if the disability needs to be disclosed it should be done so after you know who I am and what I am all about!!!

  37. by Jennifer Ramsey

    On October 27, 2011 at 8:15 am

    I personally don’t have any mentally or physically delayed children, yet there are so many in my oldest son’s kindergarten class and school in general that I find myself watching what I say. I used to never be aware that the word was offensive until I dated a guy whose son had autism. I’m glad you were able to educate him that using that word is offensive. After my cousin came out I no longer use the word “gay” either.

  38. by missy

    On October 27, 2011 at 8:24 am

    I agree that using words to hurt and label people is wrong. But I think it is also wrong to only care about it after it happens to you. It seems a little self-absorbed to laugh about “retards” until you have a baby with a disability and then take a high horse. I would never laugh at a skit about a retarded caged brother & I do not have a child with a disability. I would tell that teen not to make fun of disabled people & I do not have a child with a disability?

    And, what does her Ralph Lauren pink bikini have to do with anything? Is it cuter because it’s RL? Would she be less cute or worthwhile if she were in a Target pink bikini?

    I am sure your child is wonderful regardless of where you bought her bikini & how insensitive her lifeguards are.

  39. by noah

    On October 27, 2011 at 8:54 am

    this story is “retarded”! she’s stuck up and selfish, and now wants sympathy!

  40. by Kim

    On October 27, 2011 at 8:56 am

    To Mariel, the lifeguard did not say anything negative about her child. The teenagers were throwing around slang, and this mother personalized a situation that had nothing to do with her or her child.

    And yes, schools should teach words “like this” in school. It is an English word, in the dictionary, and it means “to slow; to hinder”. I want my child to learn words, and not have the politically correct police mandating what words are tolerable and not. As a parent, I will help her to understand those variables.

  41. by Lauren

    On October 27, 2011 at 9:10 am

    People are ignorant! I am glad you handled it the way you did. My 4 year old has Type 1 Diabetes , once we were at the park and another mother asked “Well, can my kids catch Diabetes? If so I don’t want our kids playing together.” My 4 year old heard this and started begging not to take her friends away because she has Diabetes…. I wanted to slam the woman into the ground but I did the same as you and controlled myself. It’s hard to stay cool in situations like this I am proud of you. And your little girl is a doll.

  42. by Deirdre Brehaney

    On October 27, 2011 at 10:05 am

    I am the adoptive mom to a Shaken Baby Survivor. He has multiple disabilities. I have heard that his nickname at school is “Tard” for retard. School staff deny this & tell me there is no bullying at the school because of a zero tolerance. So, I get no support or help from school. It is so heartbreaking when I see how bad he is treated, even in front of other parents. Parents in our neighborhood will not let their kids play with mine, and they tell their kids right in front of us. My son was born normal so he looks normal which might made his situation harder for kids to understand so they view him as slow, stupid, dumb—hence the nickname “Tard”. These parents that allow their kids to tease, bully, and treat my son so mean have all know Jared since he became our Foster Child at 5 months. He is 9 now. They know Jareds behavior is not his fault, but rather caused by an adult which is why I can’t understand why they treat him so bad. I believe it is because he is not “perfect” like their kids so not worthy of playing with Jared. It is hard for me to handle and accept.

  43. by laura

    On October 27, 2011 at 10:23 am

    I am so sick of people like you who allof a sudden when faced with having a special needs child turn around and are mortified by the way people treat those who are different! You admit to freely using the word “retard” before your daughter was born and only NOW do you find it offensive. I grew up in a family of 5 children. My oldest brother has Down’s and from day one we were all taught to use compassion in everything we do. We didn’t treat my brother differently than we treated the rest of our siblings. We didn’t tolerate the word “retard” from our friends.maybe if people were more tolerant of those who are different (because, yes people who are handicapped in any way are indeed different) from the getgo,they wouldn’t have to feel so pious when they are face to face with a disability. Maybe if compassion and tolerance were taught all along, the Barats of the world would be few and far between.

  44. by Julie

    On October 27, 2011 at 10:38 am

    I couldn’t take the author seriously after the childish comment about his acne.

    You yourself said you used it before your daughter was born. Instead of trying to change the world, educate your kids that when someone says that word, there are different meanings. Not everyone says it to attack others, as you know since you use to say it.

    -A mother of a child with delays and a cousin with DS

  45. by Stephanie

    On October 27, 2011 at 10:47 am

    I honestly think that people are way to emotional when it comes to the word retard. I have two cousins who have down syndrome and would do anything for them. However in this story she even said herself she thought it was hilarious until she had her little girl. Kind of a hypocrite to me. I use the word retard all the time and in no way do I use it as you are slow and to make fun of anyone with a disability. And yes I will continue to use the word, unless the word is directed towards someone with a disability then yeah something should be said and that is wrong but if I find something someone is doing funny or makes me laugh, I will stop acting retarded. And no I am not saying anything a person does on a day to day basis with a disability, do I find funny. No I don’t find it funny that they move slower, or have difficulty doing things that anyone can do with in 5 mins. I think to many people get bent out of shape over this word. It’s not going away, and just because you have a child with a disability gives you know right to tell anyone what word they can or can not use.

  46. by Stephanie

    On October 27, 2011 at 10:49 am

    I will say stop acting retarded**

  47. by Laura

    On October 27, 2011 at 11:41 am

    It is my sincere feeling that Ms. Sklar does not get so caught up in her over-compansation for having a child with disabilities, that she should somehow neglect her other two children. They too deserve a blog about how wonderful they are and how their acheivements bring pride to their family. I hope that Ms. Sklar’s “look at me” way of parenting does not overshadow the needs of ALL of her children. I feel Ms. Sklar feels the need to “correct” the world so that she is judged solely on the pressumed good job she does raising a child with disabilities.
    Good luck to JoJo and her siblings. Their lives will NEVER be one without predjudice. They all will face it at every turn. God Bless.

  48. by Kim

    On October 27, 2011 at 11:44 am

    @Laura, my thoughts exactly. I saw the blog and immediately thought that it was rather inequitable that the other children’s names are not so visible. I tend to find the “look at me” parents rather tiresome; they are very difficult to take seriously.

  49. by Carolyn A.

    On October 27, 2011 at 11:56 am

    Good for her. I had tears in my eyes reading this. That’s a word that just needs to go.

  50. by Jen

    On October 27, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    The author has too much going on in her life to worry about what’s going on in a teen’s head, a teen who just showed remarkable manners & maturity by apologizing to someone he offended indirectly? I have too much going on in my life to worry about offending people with words that aren’t even directed at them.

  51. by Katiesmommy

    On October 27, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    The teen in the article wasn’t even talking about the girl with Downs.  He referred to the person he was talking about as “him”.  He was probably using slang to talk about some kid at school he didn’t like, not about someone with a disability. The girl’s mom heard him, the teen apologized for using a word she didn’t like anymore after her daughter was born (but liked just fine prior to this). This is not the story of a child treated poorly.  It’s the story of an unpopular word, a teen with good manners & a mom who is trying to cope with her grief over having to face a disability and expects the world to change now that she is on the wrong side of the word.

  52. by Martin

    On October 27, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    It’s a word. Get over it, you tard.


    On October 27, 2011 at 4:35 pm


  54. by Emily

    On October 27, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    It sounds like you really changed that boy’s thinking and that’s all you can do, one person at a time. Great job!

  55. by LB

    On October 27, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    You know what bothered me about this article? The cynicism that the mom showed toward the teenager at the end–and the disdain she showed toward him throughout. It didn’t seem quite forgiving to me. It didn’t leave me with a feeling of hope. I know her feelings (rightly so) were hurt, but we need to allow people to make it right. It was also interesting that she insulted him throughout, and in my mind, made fun of him for things he couldn’t control…like his acne and Dumbo ears, for starters. Anyway, I’m not a user of the “r” word, but I’m not a hater of teenagers trying to make it in the world, either. I wonder how HIS mother feels after reading this blog. I’d be proud of him…for realizing a mistake and trying to make it better. Ticked at that mom, though, for dragging him through the mud to make an example of him for the sake of her daughter and those like her.

  56. by LC

    On October 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    Kudos for speaking up about bad manners/behavior. Too many people won’t because they don’t want to get involved or it’s not “their business.”

    Unfortunately, the tone of your writing left me more sympathetic to the teenager, given the hypocritical way you wrote of his physical features. Dumbo ears? Blotches of acne? Not very becoming, especially from an adult.

    I applaud the teen for not only apologizing, but for WAITING for you to swim your laps and then SEEKING you out to apologize.

    Ease up on the cynicism and give credit where credit is due. We don’t teach our kids to never make mistakes. We teach them to recognize them and grow from them.

  57. by Rachael

    On October 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    He was young, he said something stupid. Everyone does. Your job is to educate him, not insult him. If you insult back, it just brings you down to the level of the language he used. You seem to think you’re the bigger person here- but really, from your description you give the impression of someone as childish as he was. He probably learned a lesson, but he could have done it without your snotty comments.

  58. by Angela

    On October 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Bill….No one SAID THIS to the little girl. There were a few of teenage boys standing around talking about some guy they knew. The mom overheard a conversation between a group of teenagers and decided to let them know that she didn’t appreciate a word they were using (a word she admitted to using herself with no problem in the past). The boy who used the word apologized to her which I found very polite. He could have easily said that she didn’t have the right to tell him what he can and cannot say, especially when he wasn’t talking to her or about her. Maybe I would have felt differently about this article had she not made a point to say nasty things about the kid she was correcting. The young man was not calling her daughter a retard, but she called him dumbo ears and made fun of his acne. Shame on her! She’s the adult.

  59. by Five Years of Wedded Bliss « Visions of Johanna

    On October 29, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    [...] Ellen Seidman ran one of my old posts on her amazing blog on parents.com. (You can read it at http://www.parents.com/blogs/to-the-max/2011/10/13/uncategorized/a-mom-stands-up-to-teens-who-use-th…). I  tweaked it a bit from the original version to give it some context for National Down [...]

  60. by Molly

    On October 30, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    I teach middle school and I go out of my way to speak to the children who use it. It gets to the point where I hear them say “re” and then stop and use another word. Past students of mine will hear it and go “oooo Ms C does NOT like that word!” I hope and pray this lesson remains with them long after everything else has faded into a memory.

  61. by Dawn

    On November 2, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    You seem like a wonderful mom who cherishes her child. In the beginning of the article you talk about how, as an adult, you found the word retard humorous and often “threw the word around”. It took a life changing experience through the birth of your beautiful daughter to help you see the hurtful, ugly nature of that word. Still, you hold teenagers to a higher standard than yourself. Perhaps they don’t realize how cruel their words are just as you didn’t. By knowing and caring for someone like JoJo they can come to understand and respect people regardless of abilities or differences. I think it was important that you spoke to that young man and gave a voice to those that can’t speak for themselves but it’s through experiences that each of learns and grows.

  62. by Heather

    On November 3, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    I don’t use the R word because I think it’s offensive and cruel. I understand how hurtful it would be to hear that word when someone you love is developmentally delayed. That being said, I have to echo some of the other posts- the author admits that she and her husband frequently used the word before having a child with Down syndrome, and yet she is expecting teen boys to have more kindness and empathy than she and her husband had as adults. I commend her for speaking up, but then when the kid apologized, she expressed doubts over his sincerity- it took courage for that kid to look her in the eye and apologize for something she herself admits being guilty of well beyond her teen years. In fact, it seems like the only reason she stopped using the word was that she had a daughter with Down syndrome. If that’s what it took for her to realize what a nasty word that is, I’m not sure why she expects a teenager to understand it so easily. I’m also not sure why she felt the need to mock the kid’s ears and acne (an adult making fun of a teen like that- it’s pretty unkind), or what else she wanted from him- he apologized and seemed remorseful, and said he’ll never use the word again. Sounds like he’s going to stop using the word a lot earlier in life than she did. And really, she used to roll her eyes and mutter “retard” under her breath when a store clerk was moving too slowly? I wish someone had told her off for that. No excuse to behave that way. Period.

  63. by Susan Case

    On November 4, 2011 at 3:07 am

    You handled this situation perfectly. I have a daughter who is “moderately retarded” and has a seizure disorder. I use the term “developmentally delayed” because she makes progress every day. You might be interested in my post “Is There a Special Needs Child in the Classrooom.” I taught Sp Ed, Early Childhood and Kindergarten and am an advocate for Special Needs people. My daughter has brought more joy into my life than any other person – a true gift. http://tinyurl.com/6cm9n7s

  64. by Ruth Ann

    On November 5, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    In total agreement… wish that everyone could get why this is so offensive to those of us who are the loved ones of those who are mentally and/or physically challenged. I have politely asked several friends of mine to stop using the word “retarded” incorrectly. Thankfully, most of them have become more sensitive to this issue and don’t do it anymore.

  65. by Irene

    On November 8, 2011 at 8:29 am

    It is sickening how the writer of this article demeans and makes fun of the teenager.

    It seems that while the word “retarted” is now off limits to her, being cruel isn’t.

  66. by Sara Anne

    On November 8, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Ohhhkay… So, in the same breath that this mother condemns(rightfully) people using the word retarted, she makes fun of the apperance, intelligence and sincerity of an adolecent.

    Her anger at hearing the word used is understandable. However, her own behaviour is actually worse. Much worse.

    She is an adult, one who now is affected by certain language and the meanings behind it. But she then does exactly what she condemns to a child.

    This mother needs to see how hurtful she was how incredibly damaging her comments about this boy were. Teens have commited suicide over their peers mocking their looks…how much more horrifying would it be to find an adult doing the same?

  67. by Kendra S

    On November 8, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    I find the title “stands up to teenagers” puzzling.

    Adults don’t “stand up” to children. This mother wasn’t facing her superiors, or someone that could harm her. These were a group of teenagers. It didn’t take courage. As parents we are supposed to teach our children. As adults we are supposed to be models of good behavioir.

    I find it apalling that every time she spoke of the teen, she made horrible remarks about his apperance.

    The teen may have learned a lesson. But the mother obviously has learned nothing. All she has done is replace the word Retarted with other hurtful and damaging words.

    She used to make fun of people by calling them retarted. Now she doesn’t use that word; but she still makes fun of others and calls them names.

    How is this something to aspire to? How is is brave? How is this encouraging?

    Hurt is hurt….eliminating one word from your vocabulaty of hatred doesn’t make you less hateful.

  68. by JJ

    On November 21, 2011 at 11:47 am

    As I read this, I thought how the writer stated she and her husband both said things about people who were slow right up until they had their daughter. At that point they decided it was not a nice thing to say – and they were adults at that point. Borat was a dumb movie, yet she laughed so hard, she…. Come on now. She stated how the guests at a dinner party in the movie were horrified at how he spoke of his brother(THEY were horrified)and she thought it was funny – as an adult. Now, as an adult, she talks about someone who has Dumbo ears, walks like Frankenstein and makes a pathetic attempt to wave hi. What the heck!!?? How is this writer any different than she was because SHE doesn’t call people retards? The boys were kids, first of all. Kids DO say mean things. But who is she to stand in judgment? She talks about the boys acne which he has no control over either. She was THAT upset over it that she wanted to slap the kid?? What? How rational and mature of her. She was also so mature as to walk away in a huff without him being able to reply. Her head was pounding she was so upset? Come on, get a grip. She still thinks she’s better than others. Stood up to a kid over a word and made a mountain out of it. Wow. Meds anyone?

  69. by Disgusted by this mom

    On March 17, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    I am absolutely DISGUSTED by the fact this this mom repeatedly insults this teenagers physical appearance while trying to act holier-than-thou becuase she is NOW offended by the word retarded. This vile woman freely admits that she used the word retarded often and obviously has no problems insulting anyone who crosses her path but by God DONT use the word RETARDED or else the world will stop spinning becuase NOW she finds it offensive.

    Wow, you are really a GREAT mom there lady! I bet you sit on the front pew for Sunday morning church service claiming to be all Christian too. I bet you have absolutely no problem using words like stupid, idiot, imbecile, ignorant, moron, midget, geek, nerd, or any other of a thousands words that offend someone, somewhere, but you have to appease your own guilt over creating a retarded child by trying to belittle others.

    You created a child who you expect society to financially care for and now you expect society to make sure we don’t hurt your feelings while you feel free to use any other number of insults whenever you feel like it. Grow up lady!

  70. by rngwrm

    On April 12, 2012 at 11:04 am

    you enjoyed retard right up until you had your kid, so you know the word has its place. you also state early on that your kid isn’t a retard – she’s “developmentally delayed.” as far as your concerns go, “retard” is already obsolete, so shove your fake indignation; it has a new meaning now. retard isn’t going anywhere, just like idiot, cretin, moron, imbecile, and a bunch of other words that all formerly were diagnoses for retards. hopefully you’ll find comfort in the fact that retard should be the last of a long line of fun words to call stupid stuff, because peecee phrases like “developmentally delayed” just sound retarded, even when properly used to refer to a developmentally delayed person.

  71. by DK

    On October 2, 2012 at 1:04 am

    I would never use the term – but as someone who grew up “learning disabled” with a bunch of my own labels, I can’t help but think at the same time the terms don’t matter really. People are judging others regardless if the put a label on it or not. They know when your different and they judge it. I recently watched a presentation from a person who accepted the term “retarded” to describe themselves, which offended others in the audience, but as a person who grew up with labels I could understand him in a way that others couldn’t.. because I lived it in a way “normal” people don’t have to.
    I’m not saying your not partially right, but maybe your own reaction to the label is also part of the problem.

  72. by Debbee

    On November 6, 2012 at 11:19 am

    I am getting a mixed message here from the author. So high and mighty. Yet had she not had a child with Down Syndrome she would have continued to use the “r” word right along with the very people she feels superior too now. This is so sad that it took having a child with special needs to stop her from using that word. I just find it a very sad story, not because of the young people who threw around the word so freely, but that this woman feels compelled to be superior to all. Get off your high horse.

  73. by Doyle

    On December 12, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    I find this story thoroughly odious. The kid shouldnt have been swearing and being a douche at work. Who knows whether he was genuinely sorry or not. Who cares. The fact that the author states that they used the word ‘retard’ freely before and found it hilarious, and then decided to retort with some childish personal insults, just highlights how thoroughly self-righteous and obnoxious they are to presume the world revolves around them and their introspective and entirely circumstancial little revelation.