Stop using the R word

Phoebe’s daughter, Maura.
All around me, people use the word “retarded” without a second thought. Sometimes I’ll say “Um, dude, really?” and they’ll say “Oops, my bad! But really – I was being so retarded!”

Sometimes, I let it slide. I realise that it’s a word that’s ingrained in our society’s vocabulary and people use it without a second thought to its meaning.

But what does it mean to be retarded? Well, I know what it doesn’t mean.

It doesn’t mean not being able to choose something for lunch despite having 100 choices in front of you.

It doesn’t mean not being able to find your car keys.

It doesn’t mean saying the wrong thing to a person.

It doesn’t mean forgetting your best friend’s birthday.

It’s not something to describe yourself as when you’ve spilled your coffee or tripped on a crack.

It’s not something to describe your computer, car or phone.

According to the dictionary,the word “retarded” means “slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress.”

But for me, it’s not just any old word: it’s my daughter. My beautiful, bright, happy, loving, amazing daughter, who is slow or limited in intellectual development and academic progress.

In our household, being retarded means something different.

It means not being able to fully care for yourself.

It means not understanding what the doctor is going to do to you.

It means not being able to explain what hurts when something hurts.

It means not being able to ride a two-wheeler. Or read. Or ever be able to live on your own.

But ever the optimist, I also know that in our household “retarded” means:

… never realizing the negativity behind the word retarded

… never knowing the insensitivity surrounded the word’s usage

… never realising the ignorance of people

… never knowing how other people view you.

But being retarded also means:

… loving unconditionally

… finding joy in the smallest of things

… being self-confident

… not realizing there are limitations

… innocence.

Maura’s diagnosis? Cognitively disabled. Which means retarded.

When you call yourself retarded, you’re also calling my child stupid. Because you use the word as just that – another form of stupid.

Let’s get something straight here.

My daughter may have cognitive issues. She may have delays. She may never live on her own. Scratch that – she will never live on her own.

But Maura is not stupid.

In her own way, Maura is very smart – maybe smarter than us, at times. She has more self-confidence than anyone I know who’s called themselves “retarded”. She is the best judge of a person’s character than anyone else I’ve ever known.

Yes, she is slow to learn things. But she is not stupid.

I know that most people don’t use the word “retarded” maliciously, and most people I know use it in a self-depreciating way. And when I point it out, they go “Oh wow, I’m sorry!” and they truly feel like a heel.

But the thing is, you’re still using it in the way that people who do use it maliciously use it – to describe stupidity.

I know what “retarded” is. I live with it in the form of my daughter. And in our world “retarded” doesn’t equate to “stupid”.

Phoebe Holmes is a writer, blogger and advocate. Her blog, Herding Cats, chronicles life with her husband, three teens, one tween with special needs, two ridiculous dogs, coffee, music and the chaos that reigns. Follow Phoebe on Twitter and Facebook.


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