It's always a good time for a few tips and reminders about offensive and non-offensive language (and attitudes!) concerning people with disabilities. 'Cuz, if you wanna be my friend, ya gotta know the lingo!

~~ "Retarded" and "retard" are just plain unkind, and really makes the person using such terms appear low-class and intolerant. Especially when used in the slang, casual form, as in "That's so retarded!" or "What a retard!" If overheard by a person with Ds or a family member of a person with Ds, be warned that it will very likely induce them to open a can o' whoop ass on you and endanger your life. Technically and clinically? Yeah, they tell me that my son is mentally retarded. I prefer to think of it as a learning disability. IQ measures one's ability to learn; it does not measure their worth as a person or their right to respect and dignity.

~~ My son is not "Downs," he is not "Down syndrome," and he is not "a Downs baby" or a "Down syndrome baby." Finn has Down syndrome. Down syndrome is not his primary identifying characteristic, and it is but one element of his genetic makeup.

~~ By the same token, Finn is not a "special needs child." Honestly, the more time goes on, the less hip I am to the term "special needs." I have six kids; five of them are supposedly "typical," and yet they all have their own quirks, idiosyncracies, and yes, special, unique needs. So. I guess "special needs" is a safe catch-all phrase, which is definitely more benign than "disabled," "handicapped," etc. However, if one is going to use the term "special needs," Person-First language still applies, as in "child with special needs" as opposed to "special needs child" (hopefully Katherine Heigl and her hubby will catch onto this before too long!).

~~ I'm really not a fan of the whole "special" thing anyway. I mean, all my kids are special in their own ways (and they all drive me batty in their own ways . . . but that's for my other blog). Finn is a baby who has a wonky chromosomal makeup. He's not any more or less a blessing to our family than any of our other kids, he's not other-wordly, and I can assure you that he does not have wings or a halo. At least none that I've seen. But maybe as an atheist, I wouldn't be able to see them?

~~ There is no such thing as "mild" Down syndrome! Down syndrome is the condition in which the twenty-first chromosome is triplicated in every cell of the body. So, just like it's impossible to be just a little bit pregnant, Down syndrome is all or nothing (unless you're talking about mosaic Down syndrome, but I'm not; I'm talking about Trisomy-21, the most common form of Down syndrome, and the form which Finn has). There is also no correlation whatsoever between the "mildness" or "severity" of the facial characteristics of a person with Ds, for instance, and their cognitive and/or developmental abilities. There are varying degrees of "functionality" of people with Down syndrome, and their abilities are impossible to predict in babyhood; only time will tell. The fact is, however, that most people with Down syndrome are able to function at much higher levels than most people realize.

~~ My son is not "afflicted with Down syndrome," nor does he "suffer from Down syndrome." Down syndrome is not a sickness or a disease, and I suspect that the most suffering he (or our family) will do relating to his having Down syndrome will be as a direct result of the ignorance and intolerance and unkindness of others towards people with disabilities. Yes, Down syndrome is often associated with various health issues, but not always. Finn is healthy, he's happy, and he's very much loved. His life is not a tragedy, nor is our life with him in it.

Moving beyond the R-word, I have to admit that there are other words that sting me personally (and I'm sure others in my shoes), thanks to Finn and his extra chromosomes. That's the thing about having a child like Finn - it changes your perspective about certain things. And I'm here to say that that's not a bad thing.

The other words I'm talking about are words like idiot, and moron, and imbecile. More words that we casually throw around to describe what we perceive to be stupid or substandard. And like retarded, they're all born out of what were once upon a time merely clinical terms used to describe individuals with developmental disabilities.

I admit it: I am guilty of being a long-time user of idiot - even since Finn was born. I have, however, found myself becoming very aware of my usage of the word, as well as other people's use of it (and the others mentioned above). And I've decided to eliminate those words from my lexicon. Because they do sting.

I'm not going to go on a big crusade to end the use of those words, because the truth is, as my friend Dan pointed out (I asked Dan his thoughts on all this a while back, being that he's taken on the language issue in such a big way):

"My personal opinion is that 'idiot' and 'moron' are sort of archaic.
You would never see a medical report that listed your son as an idiot
or moron. You could quite possibly see a report listing him as
retarded. And so 'retarded' and 'retard' are much more hateful, in my

I think this is a good point, although I do have to say that there is clearly a movement underway to eliminate "retarded" even from medical terminology. I don't believe I've ever seen anything in any paperwork, medical or otherwise, pertaining to Finn that included the word "retarded."  I think it may end up being a double-edged sword, though; if "retarded" is successfully eliminated as a clinical term, then eventually won't it be considered perfectly okay to use in a non-clinical manner, just like "idiot" and "moron" have evolved?

What I'd like to see is the elimination from our human vocabularies, in all of their varieties, of any and all slurs that in any way put down any class of people - be that cognitive ability, race, gender, sexual orientation, whatever.

That said, I fully acknowledge our need as a people for epithets, for words that emote and express frustration with life's little stupidities. So I offer you here a list of alternative language:



(Try unbelievable with an exclamation point, and with extra emphasis on the third syllable: "UnbeLIEVable!" Very effective. Go ahead, try it. Also, "ridiculous" and "unbelievable" can be used to boost each other, as in "Ridiculously unbelievable!" or "UnbeLIEVably ridiculous!"

Nouns (Words to Describe People):


I'm sure I could go on. And perhaps you think I'm kidding.  I'm not. Although I do hope you find these lists of alternative words entertaining, I'm serious about using them to replace idiot, moron, imbecile, and yes, retard.

Come on, people, really. It's really, really not too difficult to think before you speak, to exercise a little sensitivity and compassion for who your audience might be. And honestly, putting forth just that little effort will probably make you feel good.