5 Things People Don’t Get About The Word “Retard”

There’s a word people love so much that when you ask them to refrain from saying it they’ll defend it and sometimes fight you on it. That word is “retard,” and when I and other parents have spoken out against it, we’ve gotten a whole lot of arguments in return. Today is a day of awareness for Spread The Word To End The Word, a campaign created by the Special Olympics to raise awareness about the rampant use of the word—and why people should rethink using it. This seems like a fine time to respond to some of the recent comments I’ve gotten from people on Facebook about using the word, and clear up misunderstandings. Here goes:

“The word ‘retarded’ is a word like any other…. It has a definition and an implication and they’re not the same thing.”

Reality check: The word “retarded” derives from the term “mental retardation.” Years ago, that was a clinical diagnosis used to describe people with intellectual disability. But words evolve and change meaning, as words tend to do, and the words “retard” and “retarded” have evolved into insults. In 2010, Congress itself replaced “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” in federal health, education and labor laws with the term “intellectual disability.” The word “retarded” has morphed into a slur—why many people are shunning the word.

“I have family members who have mental and physical disabilities and yes they were called ‘retarded’ or ‘retards’ and they learned how to recognize people who are too ignorant to get out of their own way.”

Just because the word “retarded” wasn’t a big deal when we were growing up doesn’t mean it isn’t today. Besides, back then the slang “That’s so retarded!” or “You’re such a retard!” weren’t as rampant as they are today. So many parents have explained how hurtful it is to hear their child with intellectual disability being associated with an insult. People with intellectual disability have spoken about how insulting and demeaning the word is. As this Special Olympic athlete/global messenger explained, “So, what’s wrong with ‘retard’? I can only tell you what it means to me and people like me when we hear it. It means that the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like you and something that none of you would ever want to be. We are something outside the ‘in’ group. We are someone that is not your kind. I want you to know that it hurts to be left out here, alone.”

“My son is Mentally Retarded, that is the proper diagnosis for his condition. I do not think we should stop using clinical terms because of the misuse of the words.”

See above—”mentally retarded” is no longer a diagnosis. In fact, the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—the mental health bible— is replacing the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability.” Even though some doctors, schools and organizations continue to use the term “mental retardation,” make no mistake, it is a defunct term.

“The way ‘retarded’ has been used for at least 20 years is as a synonym for ‘stupid.’ If you’re so sensitive about someone using a word that bothers you  that you aren’t capable of understanding the intent behind it, you need to grow a thicker skin.”

Right. It’s being used as a synonym for stupid. And loved ones of people with disabilities do not want them associated with the word ‘stupid.” As for the thicker skin comment, have some heart: If a parent tells you that a word is painful, if people with intellectual disability say the word is hurtful, is it so hard to quit using the word?

“I do think people should be cautious of what and how they say things but it’s not the end of the world.” 

Oh, to be sure, there are many, many more pressing issues. But this is something that very much matters to parents of kids with special needs. Our kids have so many challenges to overcome in this world; using respectful language is just one thing, one very simple thing, people can do. And so, we will continue to speak out about it. And we will continue to ask: Please, just use another word.

Here. I made this video. I hope it better helps you understand.

From my other blog:

Quiz: Do you get why this word hurts so much?If you ask people not to use the word retard 

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  1. by Lisa

    On March 6, 2013 at 7:32 am

    LOVE THIS! Thank you so much for your dedication on spreading awareness!

  2. by jason

    On March 15, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    Does that mean “Idiot” and “Moron” are off limits too?

  3. by Mike

    On March 25, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    I disagree…there is nothing wrong with the word Retard. It’s not a negative as you are implying. We need to stop trying to be so PC. I 5 years you will be trying to change the word yet again, regardless of what it’s changed to this time.

  4. by high functioning autistic person

    On April 28, 2013 at 10:05 am

    I get offended when I hear it because it applies to people like me I may not be able to speak a word out loud but it doesn’t mean I am as limited as you say I am I can’t wait until I get out of high school so I can show the idiots at my school what a “retard” can really do!

  5. by Retard Lover

    On May 3, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    Grow a backbone, you arent solving anything! In fact you are making people more hostile.

  6. by Racism « KBlakeCash

    On June 6, 2013 at 12:18 pm

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  8. [...] When the kid that wins the race gets the same reward as the kid that loses it communicates to them that their is no incentive to win or try.  Furthermore, about these retarded parents that are trying to get the word “retard” banned, STOP PROJECTING YOUR SENSE OF SELF ONTO THE WORD, it doesn’t matter what you call it anything you call it is going to take on a negative connotation because it is undesirable.  All you are doing is making the world an unsafe place for personal expression.  If I use the word on a blog I am not calling your son retarded, stop leaping in front of the bullet to get hit!  and the rest of you morons, stop feeling bad for these sentimental idiots that are too stupid to detect their own horse shit! http://www.parents.com/blogs/to-the-max/2013/03/06/autism/5-things-people-dont-get-about-the-word-re… [...]

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