Before You Make That Short Bus Joke...

A lot of people out there are trying to stop the use of the “R” word today (and every day). Campaigns, Facebook posts and blogs are trying to make the general population understand how hurtful that word is to the disability community. Before my daughter, Lily, who has Down syndrome and autism, I myself used that word without thought.

Over the years, I’d never thought of my 18-year-old twins, Reagan and Kaelan, as “mentally retarded.” The school system tested them at the age of 3 and the results put them in the mentally retarded range, but I just blew it off as crazy talk. They were both brilliant in so many ways. Reagan has often been referred to as a little Einstein or the next Bill Gates.

Lily was the eye opener for me. I couldn’t bear thinking of her as mentally retarded or the more acceptable label, “cognitively delayed.” Really, I couldn’t envision what “mentally retarded” meant for Lily. I just knew it sounded scary and overwhelming. Now that Lily is 7 years old, I understand what having cognitive delays means for her. It means she might learn things or concepts slower than her peers and needs more repetition. It means she might not care about writing her name or drawing/coloring. It means she might struggle to show what she’s capable of, and we just have to figure out a way to tap into her abilities. It means she might be misunderstood more often than not because of speech issues. It means she might process information differently and therefore react differently. Lily is not stupid nor is she an idiot.

The other day, I read someone’s status update on Facebook, and they referred to their smart phone as “riding the short bus” because it was acting so stupid/slow. I have to admit their comment hurt my feelings and pissed me off at the same time.

I’ve had/have children who ride the short bus. For good reason. First off, it’s a safety issue. When the boys rode the special transportation bus, it was because Reagan was an eloper (needing constant supervision), and we also feared how the other typical kids would treat them. This bus was a fairly quiet environment for my kids to ride in and much less stressful than the other loud bus. Lily rides the special transportation bus right now, and one aspect I love is the five-part harness/seat belts. I love that someone greets her at school to help her get off and get to class. The usually calmer surroundings and the aide, who rides with the bus driver in case another adult is needed, are other positive aspects.

So next time you see a short bus, maybe you could think of my sweet girls riding inside excitedly going to school or thrilled to be going home. Maybe think of how safe those kids are instead of laughing or joking about the short bus or how “retarded” the kids inside it might be.


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