Last night when I started writing this post I was feeling quite stabby but this morning, with a fresh perspective and a calmer heart, the tone has changed. So goody for you because you’re getting less ranty-Mel and more preachy-Mel, although I’m not sure either me is better than the other. Also, when I use the word you in this post what I really mean is you know who you are and it may not necessarily apply to you but if it does you’ll know it.


Growing up, my mother, and also my 4th-grade teacher who had adopted two girls with Down syndrome, had impressed upon me that certain words, though acceptable in society, should have no place in our vocabulary.

Not all that long ago and throughout much of the 1900’s people with Down syndrome were not considered human (and, sadly, this is often still debated in the scientific community). The word retard was at the height of its use during this time to describe a Down syndrome and those with mental disabilities. It was then appropriated to describe things or people that were stupid, ridiculous, worthless, relating them to a Down syndrome (notice the absence of the word person).  And while retarded can be used in a way not tied to this derogatory use, better words do exist and probably should be used. Retard was not, and is not now, a word used in a positive way.

I have to admit that even though I’ve never used the word retarded to describe stupid things or people, I had never understood why it was considered such a bad word by so many. I reasoned that as long as a person wasn’t using it to directly insult somebody with a disability it shouldn’t be considered derogatory and why is everybody so sensitive all the time?

But then there came Lanie.

On March 15th of last year, I gave birth to this absolutely beautiful baby girl.  She was born in the traditional fashion, 7 lbs 3 oz, goopy and crying and healthy and with Down syndrome.

And JUSTLIKETHAT everything, my whole world, changed.

Still, for months, while in the throws of denial about Lanie having Down syndrome, I continually tried to defend the use of the word retard, a word I never even used. I was fighting against Down syndrome. Fighting against how I felt it changing me. Fighting against becoming one of those moms. But the more I heard the word used in general conversation the more I cringed and hated the sound of it because I knew it was harming my child. It goes deeper than just hurting feelings. Using the word retard helps to sustain a negative view of an entire group of people who simply don’t deserve it.

When you use the word retarded to describe something stupid or ugly or wonky you are relating that thing to people like my 16-month-old daughter. It is degrading, dehumanizing, and devaluing. And whether or not you mean it like that, that is exactly what you are doing and how people like me hear it. And when you defend your use of it, you are not only perpetuating the continued use of it in our society, you are saying that using that word is more important than the human it is damaging.

And the truth is, parents of children with Down syndrome are often too sensitive and that does push people away and that topic definitely needs its own post. But there is a line, people, and using the word retarded is crossing it.

I understand that maybe you didn’t know this because not long ago I didn’t know this. But I do now so I’m telling you.

And now that you know, you should do better.

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Filed under: Down syndromeLanie

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