Posts Tagged ‘ End the word ’

Why Do PARENTS Of Kids With Special Needs Use The Word “Retarded”?!

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

“I know moms of special needs children who still use it. Kinda a shame,” read the Facebook comment. A user left it in response to a post I’d written about people who cling to the word “retard”—including, of all entities, The New York Times.

Parents like me have repeatedly spoken out against the word, most recently this mom of a child with intellectual disability and this dad of a boy with Down syndrome. The word “retarded” has become a slur that means “stupid” and “loser.” The term “mental retardation” itself has been banned by Congress from federal laws, and will be replaced in the upcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders with “Intellectual Development Disorder.”

Whether you’re laughing calling someone a “retard” or saying a person has a diagnosis of “mental retardation,” the bottom line is the same: the words are demeaning to people with intellectual disability. They perpetuate the idea that people with ID are stupid. Period.

So why is it that parents of kids with disabilities still insist on using this term?

Some more comments I’ve received on posts about the word from parents of kids with disabilities:

“I don’t have a problem with ‘mental retardation.’ To me, it’s simply a medical term that has been inappropriately appropriated by mean-spirited people.”

“I have a family member with Down syndrome, and we have always used the term ‘mentally retarded’ in the most clinical, descriptive way. I’m very used to it and comfortable with it used as such.”

“My daughter has been diagnosed with moderate mental retardation. I have no qualms about using the words ‘moderate mental retardation’…it’s what she is.”

I get distraught when the word “retarded” is unthinkingly used. But when parents of kids with special needs insist on using it, I am also completely baffled.

Why? I ask. Why? 

Just use another word or term that doesn’t offend kids and adults with disabilities, and distress those of us who love them.

As one mom said, “I can’t get over the pain in my heart when I hear the words ‘mentally retarded.’ We could talk all day about how it’s a clinical, technical term but the fact is, it’s become a phrase commonly used to hurt people and it means something else, other than just clinical, to the rest of the world.”

You can take a pledge to end the word here.

More posts from my other blog:

Sometimes, we are THAT special needs family

Would you call my child a retard?

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


Image of mother and child via Shutterstock

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Can The Word Retard Kill? This Murder Might Convince You

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

193894136_84e7f3b245In August of 2010, a 27-year-old British woman with learning disabilities, Gemma Hayter, was severely beaten and left naked at a railway embankment. A jogger found her body. It was later discovered that her killers had locked her in a bathroom, forced her to drink urine, shoved a plastic bag over her head and committed other unthinkable acts.

This week, two men 18 and 20 years old and a woman who’s 22 were convicted of her murder and given life sentences. Two other men got 13 to 15 years for manslaughter. They were all from Hayter’s town, and had been tormenting her while claiming to be her friends; the beating started in an apartment after a disagreement following a night out. The judge presiding over the trial described the torture and murder as “a chronicle of heartlessness” and said, during sentencing, “It is difficult to find the words to express how vile your behavior was.

A blogger for the British newspaper The Guardian, Nicky Clark, a mom to two children with disabilities, wrote a powerful post about how disability hate crimes like this begin with verbal abuse. Words such as “retard” that demean people with mental disabilities only fuel people’s loathing. As Clark wrote, “Hate speech isn’t free speech when it locks others into a prison of stereotyping and perpetrates abuse.” And if you think this sort of atrocity doesn’t happen in our country, well, Google the words “mentally disabled woman murdered” and see the horror that crops up.

Like Clark, I have spoken out about the use of the words “retard” and “retarded” and advocated for the Spread The Word To End The Word campaign, started by The Special Olympics. As the mom of a child with special needs, it’s painful to hear the words carelessly tossed around; they demean people with disabilities even when not spoken directly to them, and perpetuate the idea of them as stupid. What’s especially pained me are the defensive, rude and downright belligerent responses I’ve gotten to my requests for people to find others words to use, particularly during one campaign I did on Twitter in which I asked people tweeting the word “retard” not to.

It’s deeply troubling to think  that language like this could spark hatred that kills. Obviously, Gemma Hayter’s killers had other issues, as does anyone who would torture a person with disabilities. And yet, language like this spreads the idea that people with disabilities are lesser human beings—and makes the idea of doing them harm that much easier to consider.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words may never harm you,” is a phrase my mother used to recite to me as a child, whenever this one bully bothered me. Sadly, that cannot be said for the word “retard.”

Rest in peace, Gemma Hayter.

I am curious to hear about your experiences: Do you hear people using the words “retard” and “retarded”? Have you stopped using them yourself?

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”

A Shocking Video To Get People To Quit Saying “Retard”


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