Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The R-word

My internet was down all day yesterday, so I missed out on the Spread the Word Campaign. However, I've been spreading the word in my own way for a while now: I sent a letter to all of my email and facebook contacts a while back, and I'm now endeavoring to sell shirts and such to spread the word that "Retard is a hate word."

Mental retardation is still one of the most difficult aspects of Down syndrome for me to come to terms with. Finn is still only a baby, so it's really, really difficult to reconcile him with retarded. The future scares the crap out of me, because I know over time, his "retardation" will become more apparent. Why does this scare me? Not because I think he will be less than, or less deserving of dignity and respect. Not because I have this need to have perfect, high-achieving children. I guess it scares me because I know how society as a whole views people with mental retardation: they are the butts of jokes; they are ridiculed, laughed at, mimicked. And it scares me for more personal reasons too: what if I find it difficult to relate to my own son? Will he and I be able to communicate and have meaningful exchanges? Will he be able to take care of himself, and if so, to what extent? Will he be victimized because he just won't know better?

In any event, "retard" IS a hate word. There are people who will continue using this terminology despite the fact that they've been made aware of its implications. There are people who are more concerned about their right to free speech than the people they hurt with their words. There are people who will never take responsibility and insist that we parents and family members of people with intellectual disabilities are the ones with the problem. As I've written about before, Kevin has taken on a one-man campaign at his school and among his peers to raise awareness and do away with the R-word. There are kids who have responded very positively to his efforts and who now tell other people why they shouldn't use that language. Then there are kids who say to Kevin, "Why do you care?" Kevin then tells them that he has a brother with Down syndrome, and that the words "retard" and "retarded" hurt his brother and every other person with Down syndrome. And some of these kids have responded with, "So? Your brother's not here, right?" It just makes you kind of want to throw your hands up and say, "What's the use?"

I'm glad there's a whole big campaign out there now, and hopefully by the time Finn is old enough to hear and understand these words, "Retard" will no longer be on so many people's lips.


Kim said...

You have spread the word! I am ashamed to say that the other day I almost used "the R word", but I stopped myself. Only the "r" sound came out of my mouth and I immediately thought of you. So you see, you are making a difference. Thanks for making me a better person.
Kim (!)

sheree said...

I couldn't agree more. In fact, I just wrote an essay on this very topic. It is most definitely a hate word.

I too, hope that one day the "R" word is not so commonly used.

Maureen said...

Once again I can relate to your post. I believe the word will never be as 'taboo' as other words have become, however, I also believe it'll be used less and less in the coming years.

Tausha said...

Finnian is so lucky to have such a strong and loving brother. Your words about your fears of "Retarded" when he gets older is exactly how I have felt and the same fears I have had. I remember through tears asking my husband when we first brought Sam home...Will he know I'm his Mom and that I love him? I guess only time will tell but I'm glad you have felt the same way I have and have the same worries, concerns and fears.

starrlife said...

What a positive post- good for you and a wonderful son too! I was a day late too. I'm glad you're feeling better. I think all of us want the world to be a kinder place for our kids and worry about the R-word!

Amanda said...

Awesome post. I actually referenced it in my blog:

Thanks for writing it!

Summer_Nicole said...

I stumbled across this and first off I have to tell you that your son is beautiful. I used to work at a place taking care of adults who had special needs and I have to tell you one of the best people I ever met in my life had Down's. He was mostly non-verbal but you could feel his soul and it was good. Everyone connected with, and loved him. He was also one of the happiest people I have ever met in my life. The spirit, mental, and physical are seperate and what we may lack in one we seem to make up for with one or both of the others.
I have to be honest though, I do not understand this 'r-word' thing. Being "MR" is a technical/medical term?? I know sometimes it is used when someone is acting a certain way that many may associate with mental retardation.. if they're being silly for example. Its kind of like if someone does something irrational, people say things like "He's crazy!" with no regard for those who truly suffer from mental illness. The words crazy/insane have almost evolved to mean other things (wild, for example)as it is so widely accepted. So I'm not too sure of the difference, when I hear people use the r-word I just think they are exaggerating a specific quality, characteristic, no different than saying a ticking clock is driving them "insane".