Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Choose A Better Word!

I decided to write this blog post because I read a lot of blogs by parents of children with special needs, and many have blogged before about the use of the word "retard." And when they do, many comment that the word "retard" is just a word, that people have a right to use it, and that the parents of children with special needs should just teach their children to toughen up. 

Yeah. Just for the record, I wanted to say that I don't like the use of the word "retard." It being that I have special needs, and I also work with children with special needs, I think it is a word that has no place in today's society. 

I was thinking about it, and I feel that there are really two reasons that anyone uses the word "retard" in this day and age.

The first is that they may not know any differently. If someone is not related to someone with special needs, and they don't work with people with special needs and they don't know anyone with special needs, they might just not have a better word to describe a person with special needs. 

For instance, your grandmother might say, "My neighbor's little grandson was visiting her today. He's retarded." The person doesn't mean any harm... this is just the word they have always heard used. 

In this case, here are some better words you could use instead.
"He has developmental delays."
"He has an intellectual disability."
"He has special needs."
You could also refer to the person's specific disability, if you know it. "He has autism," or "He has Down syndrome," for instance.

Or, you don't have to refer to it at all! In some cases, you might want to refer to the person's disability because it is part of the conversation. If the fact that your grandmother's neighbor's grandson has a special need is important to the conversation... for instance, if she was telling you that her neighbor was babysitting her grandson, because the child's mother has had trouble finding babysitters for him because he has an intellectual disability and the local babysitters have been reluctant to take him on. 

But if it doesn't really matter to the conversation... if your grandmother is just talking about the lovely visit the neighbor had with her grandson... she would not even need to mention the child's special need.

That is simple, right? OK. Moving on. 

When you call a person a "retard," you are basically implying that they are something other than human. It doesn't matter if the person you are saying the word to doesn't actually have an intellectual disability. You are comparing them to someone who does. 

Here's an example: Your neighbor accidentally runs over your kid's bike with his guitar. You complain, "That retard owes my kid a new bike!" You are either implying that your neighbor has special needs, and using a derogatory term to talk about him, which is cruel and rude, or you are comparing him to someone with special needs and implying that this is something horrible to be, which is also cruel and rude. 

Instead, here are some other words you could say that would express your anger without dragging people with special needs into it.
"That (asshole, punk, thug, goon, jerk, deadbeat, idiot, dope, fool, bonehead, buffoon, jackass, clod, ignoramus, cretin, loser, pinhead) owes my kid a new bike!" 
Yes, some of these words were once used as diagnoses for people with special needs. But they were not used nearly as recently, and don't come with the hurtful feelings that "retard" does.
If you are a person who opts to use more colorful language, I'm sure you could think of some more great words that I don't want to write in this blog entry. 
Another option would be to take the higher road and just say, "That guy owes my kid a new bike!" 

Some people also use the word "retarded" to describe a situation. Like, "My boss made us all stay late at work today for a retarded meeting."  Uh, that doesn't even make any sense, does it? Think about what you really mean to say? Annoying, useless, boring, time-wasting, mundane, exhausting, long, awful, difficult, redundant?

Bottom line. Yes, "retard" and "retarded" are just words. But they bring a lot of hurtful feelings to people with special needs, and those who love them. When you use the words "retard" and "retarded," you are hurting innocent bystanders who haven't done anything to you. There are so many better, and more accurate, words, that you could use instead. 

I know you have the "right" to use whatever words you want. That doesn't mean you have to use them. If you choose to throw these words around as if they mean nothing, then a word I could use to describe you is "mean." 

And someday, you may have a child or a family member who has special needs. Someday, it may be your little kid who comes home and tells you the word he heard some grown-up say, a word he's learned means really bad things and that he knows is also connected to him. Then, maybe, you'll understand. 


  1. I'm right there with you! There's no reason to call someone retarded.

  2. I've always cringed when I heard that word. Your thoughts are mine exactly. The disabled children I have met are such innocents, so undeserving of any hurtful words or actions. Shouldn't this be obvious to everybody?


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