How I respond when someone uses the word retarded
It is an outdated term, one that over the years has come to have a very negative connotation for behavior or appearance. It is a word often thrown around without a thought as to what it actually means to those with a disability. We hear it daily as it is a word that has become engrained into our vernacular as much as so many others do. So, how do I respond when someone uses the word retarded?
I admit I myself had used the term, before becoming a special needs parent, and it was without name calling or malice, but instead referencing how a situation or person was behaving. It was ignorance, like so many things before I learned better.
I fully regret my flippant use of the term now and realize that I may have easily hurt someone’s feelings without ever meaning to. How do you respond when someone refers to your child as “retarded”? If you have experienced this there is no doubt a plethora of reactions you have had, whether shown or not. But wait, as hard as it is not to respond out of a place of hurt, this can be a teaching moment if you will allow it.
There is no secret that we continue to battle outdated stereotypes when it comes to our loved ones with Down Syndrome. The world is still VERY ignorant about what our loved ones can be capable of. They are often put into a box that says “they can’t” or “they won’t” I’m guessing that’s because years ago, when the first recommendation of doctors and professionals was to institutionalize those born with Down Syndrome shortly after birth, they really didn’t reach their full potential. Who could when institutionalized and not provided with a loving, stimulating, enriching environment?
In battling those stereotypes we will often come across very well meaning people who say things that make you want to face palm (or choke them) but we won’t condone the latter here. Just recently I was chatting with a gentleman who was a bit older than me (so that makes him as old as Moses himself, right?) But seriously, his outdated stereotypes came from a place of growing up not ever seeing integration or what capabilities those with DS possess. In our conversation he said “Those little retarded ones (like Cedar) are just so cute and sweet.” I am not going to lie, it stung like a hot poker. He went on to say “retarded kids are always so loving.”
Okay, stop for a moment and breathe (I had to). I know this man meant no ill intent. I know his heart was not malicious. I know he thought he was actually giving a compliment. That is where I had to refocus my mind to before I responded to him. This was one of those moments, like many I will have in the future, where I will make a choice. A choice to remove the hurt from my response, and respond in love and with the mind of an advocate.
So, how do you respond to stupid, outdated, and often hurtful comments. With kindness, compassion and the love I want shown to my son. (and lots of deep breaths)
The response was something like this…”The term ‘retarded’ is one I don’t like to use because it focuses on so many negative things. My son is already showing us that though he may be slower to do things, he is smart and capable.” I went on to educate a bit on why there used to be such low expectations for those with Down Syndrome but that we are changing all of that with early intervention and raising the bar as far as our expectations. I usually finish with something like, for all children, when you expect little, you get little, when you expect great things, you see great results.
I firmly believe that.
I am not naïve, I know that my Cedar will have areas that he will always be delayed in but if I don’t have big expectations for him, he has nothing to try to live up to. It is kind of like if I expect my typical children to do well in school, they do and they try even when it is hard, but if I have no expectations for them, or I accept D’s and F’s when I know they are capable of more, that is what I will get. This is my observation as the mom of 6 children, you often get what you expect. I expect great things and I expect that together, Cedar and I, and the rest of our T21 tribe will effect a change in the way people see what the word “retarded” actually means.
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