Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Spread The Word To End The Word Awareness Day 2018

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me."

Let's get real.

Whoever came up with this rhyme, clearly has never REALLY been bullied. The reality is, those broken bones and bruises fade over time, but the scars left behind from negative words? Those have the power to change us.

Today is Spread the Word To End the Word Awareness Day- a day that is all about joining together to take the pledge to end the use of the r-word.

"But it's JUST a word, what does it really matter? If I'm not talking about someone with an actual intellectual disability, who cares?"

I've been fighting this fight against the r-word for many years, long before this day came to be and let me tell you, I have heard every excuse against the campaign there is. People will argue those arguments above--- that it's just a word and there is no negativity in the way they are using it. They argue that it's just another example of people being offended by everything. They say it' being TOO politically correct. That it's freedom of speech. That it doesn't hurt anyone. I've even had people argue me that my autistic son wouldn't have qualified for that diagnosis, so why should I care.

But it's not just a word. It does hurt people. And it's not JUST about the word, but about the attitude that the word carries with it that affects EVERY individual with an intellectual and developmental disability.

I grew up in a home where the r-word was as bad, if not worse, than any other cuss word out there. We dare not say it. You see, back in the 80s when it was still in use, my brother actually carried that diagnosis. Sadly, my brother passed away before my sisters and I were born, but his short life had a profound impact on the way we thought. We were taught that people with disabilities were to be treated with the same amount of respect that we were. We were taught that the r-word undermined that respect in every way.

Think about every time you've heard that word, or used it, if you have. What was the context? Chances are it was being used to describe you or someone else who did something dumb, foolish, stupid. When we use this word that was once a valid diagnosis, we are demeaning every person who ever carried it. Intentional or not, we are saying that those people are less than... that it's okay to look and speak down on them.

That attitude is incredibly dangerous. When we say the r-word is okay, it leads to the question of what else is okay? Are short bus jokes okay? Special ed jokes? Can we mock those with disabilities? Can we not let them sit with us? Where is the line drawn? Yes, it's 'just' a word, but the use of that word so carelessly opens up all these other doors.

I've seen this first hand with my own son.

I've seen him ridiculed and mocked, stared at, whispered about. I have seen him try to make friends only to be teased and shot down. I have seen him unaware that those who he thought were his friends were making fun of him. I have seen him come to the realization that his peers do not like him. Not because of anything he has done, but because he is different. As a mom, there is nothing quite as heartbreaking as hearing your child say, 'No one likes me'. And you know what? It's not just by kids, but their parents too. I've seen the judgmental stares, I've heard the talking behind our backs... I've left a restaurant in tears after a GROWN MAN decided that it was acceptable to yell at my then 4-year-old child for something that was beyond his control.

And it has to stop. We have to do better. We have to stop being okay with the use of this word--- as bad as any racial slur out there! We have to stop judging situations in which we do not understand. We have to start showing respect towards those who are differently-abled, and towards the people who care for them. We have to teach our kids not to avoid someone who is different, but to embrace them. Invite them to eat lunch with them. Ask them to come out and play. Just a little act of compassion and respect can truly be all someone needs. Let's start NOW with this simple pledge to eliminate this word from your vocabulary TODAY.

Learn more and take the pledge at


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"Pleasant words are as a honeycomb: sweet to the soul and health to the bones." Proverbs 16:24