Today is ‘Spread the Word to End the Word’ day! And that word is Retard…
This is a word that I have used many times in my life. I am beyond GUILTY! I have used this word when I thought a situation was stupid or ridiculous, or when I thought someone was acting like an idiot. So nonchalantly I would laugh and say “You’re such a Retard.” I would say the R-word without thinking about how it may hurt others around me. I never gave it a second thought, because to me it was just a joke. ‘All in good fun.’
Yet, when I heard the R-word used to describe someone with special needs, it would shock and disgust me. So why was it okay for me to use the word? … It wasn’t! There are no excuses. NONE.
No matter the context, the word means the same thing. It is an outdated medical term that has been desensitized, and used in every day, casual conversation. Society uses it to describe someone or something that is stupid, abnormal or flawed. And this same word is being used to describe my son, or others like him. Why? Because they are different than us. Because they may have physical or intellectual delays. Because for some reason society feels better when they can put labels on people or things.
To be honest the R-word never really had a huge effect on me until my son Cooper was born this past summer. Twelve hours after our perfectly chubby baby was born, a Dr. came in and told my husband and I that they suspected he had Down Syndrome. Sure enough, a week later it was confirmed. It was a shock for us and we instantly had fears about how his quality of life would be. We worried about him getting bullied one day and we worried about him making friends. We knew how cruel society could be to those who were ‘different’. Heck, I think all of us have been bullied, and even worse yet… Been the Bully. I know how judgmental I have been in the past, towards those who are different than me. Would our son get called ‘Retarded’ because he has Down Syndrome?
Now, our son is just shy of 8 months old. He still has some time before he starts school, and has to try and ‘fit in’ with his peers. Lucky for us, at this young age kids are kind, not cruel. They are loving and accepting and don’t see anything wrong with difference. This is truly a beautiful thing. A quality that I and many other adults can take a lesson from. It is something I will instill in Cooper, and hope parents will instill in their kids even as they grow up & begin to see differences. I hope we can encourage inclusion, instead of exclusion. I hope my son & others like him will be accepted and loved. I hope he will get invited to birthday parties, and be asked to play on the playground by his peers. I hope he NEVER gets teased or called retarded. Is this naïve? Maybe. Probably.
But that is why campaigns like this need to be shared, and the word needs to be spread. It is so important that we advocate for our children and be their mouthpiece before they can speak for themselves. In the past 8 months, my husband and I have made a conscious effort to stop using the R-word. It has been harder than we thought. We had no idea that it had become such a constant in our vocabulary. Since Cooper was born, the R-word makes us cringe. Not because we relate the R-word to Cooper, but because we know that a large part of society does. I ask you to PLEASE, take the time to reflect on the word, when you hear it or when you use it. Think about what it means and who it hurts. Think about Cooper and the millions of others like him around the world, they are people with feelings just like you and I. People who deserve nothing but respect. They are beautiful souls, and kind human beings with amazing hearts. They are intelligent, and can teach us so much. Find a new word, and instead support Love and Inclusion.
My name is Cooper
-I am smart
-I am loving
-I am strong
-I am unique
-I am NOT a Retard
Pledge Respect and #spreadthewordtoendtheword at http://www.r-word.org/ so that our children never hear or use the R-word as they grow up.