From a very young age, before I could remember really, the 'r-word' was considered to be as bad as any cuss word in our home. We were not allowed to use the word, period. In the early 80s, my older brother Jeff was diagnosed with mental retardation, and suspected autism. (Remember, at that time, autism was not as known about as it is today and it could not be diagnosed as earlier or easily. My brother passed before he was able to be officially diagnosed.) I knew very early on that this was why it was against the rules, but it wasn't until I was a bit older that I really began to understand the reasoning behind this. From that point on, this has been an issue that has been very important to me. As my friends from high school could very well tell you, as I wrote a poem for my brother and others with disabilities and differences and anytime they would use the word around me, they'd be forced to read it. Eventually, it sank in! Now, as the mother to a special needs child, it's a cause I feel even more strongly about, and having been hearing and seeing it on Facebook statuses, etc a lot more lately, I decided to explain to those who might not know why I feel this way.
I'll start by asking you to think about how this word is used, and what it's used in place of- dumb? stupid? Now, think about the groups of people who have in the past been described with this word, either by doctors (who from my understanding no longer use this diagnosis) or by those too ignorant to know the difference- those with autism in some cases, down syndrome, etc. So, by that logic people with those conditions are dumb or stupid? I can tell you firsthand that my child is the brightest child I know, in his way. Yes, perhaps that is a proud mother talking- but how many children at 2.5 years old learn to sight read some favorite words? Know how to work electronics of all types before the age of 2? And memorize songs and scenes from his favorite shows with ease? Remember exactly where the train toys are at any given store after only once visit? Shaun may not understand as much as his peers when it is spoken language, or be able to communicate his needs and wants with us yet, but in his ways he astounds me with his mind. Dumb? I don't think so. Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Mozart, Van Gogh- is stupid a word that comes to mind when you hear these names? I didn't think so, but all have been speculated to have been on the autism spectrum. Makes you think, doesn't it? Of course, I speak of autism here, because it's what I know, but you can get the idea. Special needs does not equal dumb.
In history, the word did have a legit place as a diagnosis. However, as it is most commonly used today, it is not used in this manner. It is used as an insult, plain and simple. Sometimes in the manner described above, and sometimes, more disgustingly, to insult those who actually do have disabilities. I won't go into that category too much, as it will only make me mad- a rare occurrence I know! Sometimes those who would fall into this description, are unable to defend themselves, do not know they are being insulted, etc. That's what makes this a matter beyond politically correctness. If you tell a Christian they have to use the term 'Happy Holidays', they can defend themselves and fight back (and we so often do). If you use what is considered to not be the appropriate terms for various races- not derogatory terms, but simple terms such as black or white, the members of those races can defend themselves. Religion, race, sexuality- all capable of standing up for themselves. So why is it the one group where some members are unable to stand up for themselves, is the one group that is more acceptable to insult? As I said, this is not an issue of political correctness, but of showing respect to a group of people who are all too often not given the respect they deserve.
I truly believe that the majority of people mean nothing offensive in using the 'r word', it has unfortunately just become a common part of today's language. I was extremely blessed to have had a mother who taught us otherwise at an early age. I hope after reading this those of you who have used this word, will consider other options or at least think about what I have written here. But if you read this and feel no differently, then by all means, keep on using it, but don't use it around me or in my home or be prepared to donate $1 to Special Olympics.
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