Friday, March 5, 2010

She's right you know...


Ok, did you read it?  I grew up in a time and a very isolated place where the word "retarded" wasn't scary or mean or bad.  There was a girl (woman) that lived next to my grandmother who was retarded.  As a child I needed to know why she was the way she was.  I was told that she had temper tantrums and threw things and pulled her hair and talked funny and dressed different and looked different because she was retarded. I played with her when she had good days and went home when she had bad ones. She was my friend.  Simply that, not my retarded friend, just a friend who happened to be retarded.   My mother grew up playing with her too and I imagine was given the same explanation.   It never crossed my mind to call her anything but her name.  Her name was Cheryl.   I was never allowed to make fun of people with disabilites, if I had been caught by mama or my grandmother saying anything bad about a disabled person, I might have become disabled myself.  It was NOT permitted.  

When I was a teenager, a girl in my class had a brother with cerebral palsy.  She hated the word "retarded".  I didn't understand because in my world "retarded" had never been used as a bad word.  It was an explanation, like you can't eat any more 'cause your full, or you can't sleep 'cause you're not tired.  I just didn't get what the big deal was.  I even began to use the word myself in the place of something stupid or ridiculous. 

Tonight I realize how wrong that is.  I have had to label my children so that they could get the services they need.  According to the level of need, the money available, the ridiculousness of the bureaucracy involved, we have had to get them different diagnoses.  Autism, developmentally delayed, blind, MR, cognitive delayed.  I have to admit that until I read Tannis' post, I was at a point where I really didn't care if they called my kid ANYTHING as long as he got to go to school and eat lunch with the other kids.  As for the other people in the world, the ones who cringe at drool, shake their head at a 7 year old in diapers, the friends and family who don't call because they don't want to "bother" us, well I don't even see them anymore.  Their consequence means nothing to me.  It's the people, the kids that come up and call them by their names that matter.  The ones who ask them how they're doing when they know that they can't answer.

I think we softly walk through this life hoping no one sees our weaknesses. It's so easy to laugh at people who are so blatantly different on the outside when we are all, below the surface, different, because just maybe your laughter will drown out the person who is laughing at you.

So to hammer home Tannis' point...the next time you start to use the R word, please remember that you are telling the world that these children don't matter; that my child and all disabled people are stupid, boring, ridiculous, worthless, junk.  And man, go ahead and ask me if that's true.  Or better yet, ask him. 



  1. I think that word existed in the vocabulary of anyone over the age of 40. It was a different time. There was no politically correctness in the world. I came from the south and there are many words that I cringe when I hear. I grew up with these words, many I didn't even know were wrong. It is amazing how we use words to hurt or belittle others. It is nice that we now think before we speak. At least some of us do. I think there is more compassion now. I sincerely hope so. Much love and prayers to the many who need our protection and love.

  2. Eventhough I am a goat, even I can see how cute and special this guy is!

  3. Beautifully said Lisa. I want to jump on that couch and give that boy a cuddle. I have also been noticing lately that backpacks are getting to be the same size as the children that carry them.
    I missed you.

  4. My degree is in Special Education so this is a touchy subject for me. Things do change and what is acceptable now will be surely improper to our great grandchildren. The child is all that matters. Great post!

  5. The word retarded was never in my vocabulary, I just never used it. I had no use for that term, but I can see why you did. We all know what we learn. Times and terms change with time. We evolve into something else over time. My grandson has autism and he is almost three. He doesn't talk yet and half the time I don't know if he knows I am there and love him so. I would knock the head off someone that called him a name, any name, just try me. I would knock the head off anyone that called the sweet angel above a name, any name, just try me, Char

  6. Oh Lisa this was a very good post and I just got through reading the link you provided too. I like the way you lead into your experience growing up too. I agree the world is a little different now than it used to be, but there will always be those who just plain don't think beyond their own nose or are totally oblivious to how they treat others. I think sometimes it doesn't even occur to people how hurtful associating derogatory labels can be. I think we're all guilty in some way or another at some point or another in our lives of doing this, but bringing this to public attention is an important first step toward understanding. And you've done it well! Thanks. ~Lili

  7. As an English major, I love the word retarded. I love the words fag and dyke and all the subsequent off-putting verbiage that usually offends. I understand your point, and I feel for her, but at the end of the day, words are just words. Nobody should be able to "claim" words or "take words back" because they're for everyone. Instead of trying to banish words, there should be more teaching of acceptance and understanding.

    We had a retarded kid in our 3rd grade class and we tormented him tremendously. He wasn't mentally delayed, but he talked funny and walked funny and we didn't understand why. Teachers and parents didn't discuss it, they just yelled at us when we made fun of him. In 11th grade, he ended up killing himself. If someone - ANYONE - had told us when we were young and explained that he was just like the rest of us, and answered our questions about his disorder, we probably would have found him novel and would have wanted to be friends with him. Instead, he was different and nobody told us why. I think it is imperative that a school with children of any 'difference' (gay/transgender/disabled/etc) discuss those differences and explain that such differences are insignificant and teach tolerance and understanding.

    In middle school, we had a new girl come to class who was deaf and, of course, talked funny. On the second day of class (after being teased the first day), she asked the teacher if she could come to the front of the class and address us. She brought along her aid and they explained to us that she spoke funny because she was deaf. She couldn't hear us, but she could read our lips and spoke mostly using sign language. She told us how hard it was to learn to speak when you can't hear and after telling us about her disability, it wasn't fun to make fun of her, and we were actually curious about it and wanted to ask her lots of questions. I know that likely isn't common, but I think a lot of teasing comes from a place of not understanding and being really curious. At the end of the day, I would never make fun of someone for a disability of any kind, but the word retarded is no longer used in a major way to be detrimental to handicapped kids. In the same way that gay (which I am) is used to mean stupid or lame, retarded has taken a new life as an off-handed way to say that something is not as good as it should be. It doesn't mean we hate gays or the handicapped.

  8. RetardsRfucknRetardedJune 19, 2011 at 6:30 PM

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