I can’t. I cringe every time I hear the word. My thoughts just stop and in that moment I’m numb. I know I’m no ones mother and I know I can’t erase the word from everyone’s vocabulary. I just want people to stop and think about what they say when that disgusting word leaves their lips. It breaks my heart but I don’t freak out on the person when they don’t know any better (but they do know better). I calmly say, “That’s not a nice word.” and usually people can see/ feel how much that word hurts me. What’s your intention when you call someone or something retarded when there’s nothing wrong with them? There’s something wrong with you if you can’t figure out another word to describe your frustration.
My godson, Gerry, just turned 12 years old on April 11th. He has Down Syndrome. I’m sure you’ve heard of it but might not know what it even means. I can’t lie and say I even knew what that was before he was born. Doctors don’t know why babies are born with an extra chromosome but they do know it’s not hereditary. One in every 691 babies in the the U.S. is born with Down syndrome, making it the most common genetic condition. In 1910, the life expectancy of a child with Down Syndrome was 9 years old. Today, 80% of adults with Downs live to reach their 60s and even pass it. Much like you and I, each person with Down Syndrome excel at some things that others aren’t able to do. For example, Gerry can’t talk yet; he’s being taught sign language and uses his iPad to communicate what he wants and how he feels. You’ll know when he’s happy or sad or wants more of something. He gets better at communicating everyday! It’s amazing how much he’s learned since he went to a new school. Gerry changed my life and his family’s lives. He is the BEST boy in the entire world. He’s hilarious and he loves to play and run and hug people. OH, and he loves his Spongebob DVDs! He greets everyone when he walks in and out of a room and he never forgets a face. Everyone loves Gerry and he loves you, even still if you’ve used the R word. I remember one time when I was very young and at a park with my brother. It was time to go so we were piling in the car and I didn’t notice who else what on the playground until I was sitting still in my car. There was a little boy who had Down Syndrome and was playing with either his sister or friend and running around like any other child. He was kneeling down in the rubber mulch and had sneakers on. There were 3 other kids around him asking him to count how many toes he had. The little boy was just so excited to show off that he knew how to count while the other kids made fun of him and kept teasing him that he didn’t know how many toes he had automatically. Even while I’m writing this I’m crying because every time I hear someone use the R word I think about how many other children and/or adults who have mental or physical handicaps are being made fun of and don’t even know it. You’re hurting them and everyone who is their friend or family and YOU don’t even know how bad it hurts. I saw that happen when I was 13 years old and it still eats away at me today. I wish I jumped out of my car and kicked their butts to kingdom come. Don’t feel bad for Gerry, though. He’s the luckiest little boy. He has an amazing mom and dad and two extraordinary brothers that protect him. Anyone in his entire family would literally do anything and everything for him. His whole town knows him and greets him whenever they see him. He has had the privilege of being taught by aides and teachers who genuinely care for him and his education.
It’s time to grow up. You have a chance to do something else in your life that you can be proud of. You’re not a model human being; I’m not saying I’m a saint either but it’s one thing that I can lend a hand in and that’s spreading the word. I feel strongly about this and I can promise you that I always will. I gave a pledge to not use the word retarded… sign HERE and take the pledge too
A version of this post first appeared here: