So if there is one word in the English language our family hates, it is the word "retard". Well, I guess we don't hate the word itself but the way people use it.
My sister, brother and I grew up constantly exposed to mentally disabled people. Both my mom and step-father worked at a home for mentally disabled adult men and from the time I was three or four, we spent a lot of time with them. We would go on camping trips, play games, work at the annual fair with them, whatever. This taught all of us that the mentally disabled are just like us. They can do things we can do, they can feel and laugh, and love. We have used these lessons our whole lives when presented with people who are different than we are.
I have always tried to instill these lessons in Princess Ivi as well. When I was a paralegal at a large home (institution) for mentally disabled adults in Florida, Princess Ivi attended the on-campus daycare. Her best friends were a blind girl, a little girl with cerebral palsy, and a little boy with Down Syndrome.
When we learned my sister's baby (now 2 1/2 years old) would be born with Down Syndrome, those lessons we learned were invaluable. We knew he would be able to love us and we knew we would love him. We knew he would be able to learn things like tying his shoes, riding a bike, playing soccer, everything we could take the time to teach him. He is the reason we moved to Massachusetts from Florida. Because we wanted to be with him as much as possible.
I remember shortly after he was born Princess Ivi was at the Boys and Girls Club and they had gone to the local pool to swim. There was a group of kids at the pool all of whom had Down Syndrome. The other girls from the B&GC started teasing them and making jokes about them. Of course, Princess Ivi wouldn't stand for it and quickly put them in their place.
Since moving to New England, we hear the hated word (see above) used on a regular basis. Here it is used as an adjective, i.e., "this ret**ded computer", and as a derogatory remark, when one person calls another a ret***. The latter is especially common in Princess Ivi's middle school. According to her, all the students say this. The teachers don't stop them. This to me is very sad. Is it a northern thing? Is it just slang? Are those really good excuses for such inexcusable behavior?
I don't think they are. I think this word should not be used and it is our job as parents to make sure we teach our kids how inappropriate the word is. Here is a link to a speech given by Soeren Palumbo to his high school student body regarding this issue. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoqaNG0Ozqc) He also gave a speech to the Illinois State Senate about the use of the word "retarded".
Please listen to these speeches and then work to stop this word from being used to describe, ridicule, or joke about the mentally disabled. Work to stop this word from being used to pick on a so-called normal student by comparing them to a so-called abnormal, stupid, different, special or "SPED" student (another term I dislike).
People with mental disabilities are just like us in many ways. However, they aren't just like us because most of them can't defend themselves when words like these are used. It is up to us to defend them. Please do your part and involve your friends and family in this as well.
Okay, I am stepping down from my soapbox now.
***Edited on 9/5/08: There seems to be some confusion by some people who read this post. For clarification, I am not criticizing people who refer to someone who is mentally retarded but I am criticizing people who use "retard" as an insult or people who say something is "F-ing retarded".