Why the R-Word Is Hurtful, Even When You're Not Saying It At or About My Child


The second you become a parent, a protective instinct kicks in. Your baby is your whole world, and you would do anything to protect her. You’re a mama lion, and you’ll bite the head off anyone who messes with your cub, directly or indirectly.

As a parent of a child on the autism spectrum, I am on constant high alert. I know the ignorance is out there, lurking in the form of a glaring stranger when my child stims to keep herself calm, or an uneducated youth making an insensitive comment.

This is the indirect harm I am referring to. Insensitive comments can be hurtful, even when your child is not within earshot. This happened to me a number of years ago at work when my daughter was young and long before I had my son . My crew was milling about, waiting for the OK to start our work day. A few of the guys were joking around, calling each other names. One asked, “Why do you call him that?” to which the first responded, “Oh, because he’s [so and so’s] retarded brother.”

I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation or the crude noises made afterward because at this point I was so angry I was seeing red. It may not have been directed at myself or my daughter, but to me it didn’t matter. Language like that is a direct insult to my baby and all individuals like her. I took several steadying breaths, turned around and snapped at them to watch their mouths. There was a momentary stunned silence and a chorus of mumbled apologies, but the damage was done. Not only was I fuming, but I was also devastated. Why would they make such harsh, insensitive comments about people like my little girl?

It chewed away at me for a few hours until I went to my boss on the verge of tears and reported it. My boss was understanding. All involved parties were dealt with accordingly, which brought me a sense of satisfaction, but not a sense of closure. It still hurt. Language like that lead people to believe the differently-abled are sub-human and not worth treating with respect.

With the prevalence of autism and other developmental and intellectual disabilities, it surprises me people still use the word “retarded” so freely. And almost every time it’s used, it’s in a negative connotation. It’s used to insinuate someone is beneath you in lines of intelligence and can’t possibly understand because they are too “stupid.”

The media is worse. In shows like “Family Guy” (which I find myself liking less and less), the R-word is depicted in the worst way — one episode uses it to reference an autistic child in a helmet and protective gear, slurring his words and petting Brian the dog too hard, causing Brian to bite him on the hand. It’s meant to be funny, but in reality it is insulting and demeaning. The writers and creators of the show should be ashamed.

When I hear a young person use the word today, I often then hear, “Oh, they’re young, they don’t get it,” or “They’re just uneducated,” in defense of their ignorant actions. Well, I am sorry, but those are just not valid excuses anymore. The resources available and coverage of advocacy organizations on the news  are plentiful, so there is no reason for anyone to not understand the R-word is hurtful, harmful, and should never ever be used. Period.

You see what I mean about protective instinct?

Image via Thinkstock.

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