Retard. Retarded. These are the words that have caused much controversy over the last weeks. The buzz started with Rahm, Palin, and Rush. Some have said we have pushed the limit in what is “politically correct.” But is it? Is it wrong or offensive to use the r-word? Is it really a damaging word?
I want to tell you about our family, and I will share with you some personal and raw parts of our journey. I hope after you read this, that you will understand the power of words, and that some words, even when not intended to be harmful, can slowly destroy.
When my daughter Nichole was born, her diagnosis of Down syndrome hung over me like a heavy, wet, blanket. It clung to me. It robbed me from any feelings of love and I wondered if there was a way out. My motherly instinct was nowhere to be found. I went through the motions of holding and nursing (pumping actually) because I had to, not because I wanted to. I cried. I cried several times a day. There was fear in the unknown; there were questions about the future, about our family and my oldest daughter.
Down syndrome. I knew many things about Down syndrome, and I knew of one word that would be used to describe my daughter. It was the R-word. Retarded.
I knew that someday, someone at her school might say to her, “Hey you retard!” With many laughs to follow such a comment. Or we might hear someone explaining her behaviors to another by saying, “She is retarded.”
There was something I knew about the word retard or retarded. It is a word used to describe something or someone that is stupid, ridiculous, or inadequate. It is a word used to make fun of others, to point out their flaws, or to put them down. It is a word used to destroy, to tear down. Was this really a word that would describe my daughter?
Thankfully, it did not take long for me to discover that my daughter was not what the word "retarded" means. My daughter was and is beautiful. She is not stupid, she is not ridiculous, and she is not inadequate. She has taught me more in her lifetime than I had learned in mine. She has been the greatest teacher I have had. She has inspired me more than anyone else I know. She has changed my life, the lives of our family, and of those that have gotten to know her.
My daughter has the ability to touch hearts and change lives. A quality that cannot be said of all people. She has shown me more love, joy, kindness, gentleness than I had ever known before. Indeed, her life has great meaning, great value, and she has so much more to offer.
And yet, the word “retard” continues to hang over us. Why? Because it is a word that continues to be used in a derogatory way. It hurts. It hurts our family. We fight this word, every day, every single day. We fight this word because everywhere we go, her characteristic features of Down syndrome set her apart. The stereotype that the word “retard” has perpetuated is engrained in our society, and so we fight against it, because she is so much more. She is full of potential, love, and joy.
There are obvious ways in which the r-word is offensive. But when it damages us the most is when it is said in ignorance. The facebook status or the teasing of a friend. It is not meant to be offensive, it is not meant to hurt. But even if it is not said with ill intent, it does. It hurts, it destroys.
My daughter is not stupid, ridiculous or inadequate. A word that has been used to mock people with intellectual disabilities makes othesr like my daughter wake up and face a world that has deemed her unworthy and incapable. Incapable because of a word. A word that is not who she is. She is capable, she has gifts, she has talents.
So next time you hear the R-word, next time if you think you might be about to say the R-word. Please stop and think. Think about my daughter, think about others that like her stand strong against the tide of a word that has labeled them in such a negative way, yet they have so much potential. As her family we stand with her, we stand strong, we fight.
Will you stand with us?
You can take the pledge to end the r-word by clicking here. (if you do, will you leave me a comment and tell me you made the pledge?)
I wrote this post a year ago when we were getting the MR waiver for Nichole, thankfully, it has been changed and is now called the ID waiver. Click here to read it.