My Daughter's Response to a Hurtful Question About Her Big Brother With Down Syndrome


sister and brother holding hands While at a local play-space with my three children last week, I overheard a child recycling a word he had heard thrown around many times before.

My daughter had been playing with two children a few years older than herself, and decided to climb out to another section. A few minutes after she left, my eldest son entered the same area she had been playing in. The children studied him for a moment and then continued playing.

My daughter returned a few minutes later and said to her brother, “Here you are! I was looking for you.”

Another child asked her, “You know him — the retarded kid?”

She looked around, confused who they were talking about and answered, “No, I just know my brother, Ruhi.”

It was an innocent and profound reply. I talked with the other children and asked about the word. I tried to explain why it is hurtful without making them feel badly.

I find myself still thinking about the exchange, and know this is something that will continue to arise for our family in the years ahead.

Meanwhile, I’d like to ask for help from other adults to promote people-first language. For those who might not know, the focus becomes the person as an individual rather than on a diagnosis. An example would be “a child with Down syndrome” rather than “a Downs kid.” 

Ruhi is a big brother who detests chocolate, adores the beach, and happens to have Down syndrome. Certain areas of his development are delayed, but that is not what defines him. He has a glorious and complex identity, all his own. He is Ruhi.

brother hugging baby sister on the beach

Please also reconsider using variants of “retard” and “retarded” in connection with an action, conversation, situation, broken object, individual (yourself included) you feel negatively about. Kids watch and listen and what we model matters.

Take the pledge! Sign up to support the elimination of the derogatory use of the R-word from everyday speech and promote acceptance and inclusion.


Have you seen the first film with a national release to star a person with Down syndrome? Check out the film “Where Hope Grows” today!

Available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.

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