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6 Arguments for Using the 'R' Word... and 6 Reasons Those Arguments Make No Sense

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My older brother taught me two very smart lessons.

1. Never play kid music in your car. Unless you want to listen to Cailou‘s Greatest Hits for eternity. Your car, your music. Good advice, Big Bro. (That’s why my kiddo requests Queen and James Taylor when we drive.)

2. “The hill you die upon.” He was saying it in regards to a person we both knew who had started a Facebook scuffle. The topic? The “R” word. On my own personal profile page. One person just could not wrap his head around the idea that this might be offensive, demeaning and just plain hurtful, despite my own and others’ request to drop it. I will never forget talking about it later with my brother, and how he just summed it up perfectly. “That’s the hill he wanted to die upon? Really?”

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, autism is one of the hills I will do battle on. Spreading the word to end the word is another. Let’s just take a moment and explore the stages of a person who uses this word and is corrected for it. Most of the time it’s a case of they-just-didn’t-think-or-know-better. They usually make amends, and we all move on. But there are others who cannot take being told their speech is offensive. These are the arguments usually used:

1. Free speech protects you. Yes, it gives you the right to say it. It also gives me the right to react to it. It doesn’t protect you from hearing my retort because that’s also me using my right to free speech. Isn’t it marvelous how that works?

2. You’ve been asked to not use a word you used to say when you were on the playground as a 10-year-old. Haven’t you changed since then? You used to think New Kids on the Block was the best band ever. Still do? Didn’t think so. Perhaps it’s time to embrace that using the word “retard” or saying “that’s retarded” makes you sound about as outdated as an 8-track player.

3. You can’t understand why I get so worked up over this word. I can’t understand why you get so worked up over defending your right to it. Hear what I am about to say. You’re not offended until it affects you. Then you will be up in arms. So understand this is my up-in-arms moment and always will be. This is the hill I am willing to die upon. I have a son with autism so, of course, this is extremely personal to me. Look around, my friend; autism is everywhere. Closer to you than you might even be aware of, and I haven’t even touched on those with other disabilities. If you’re kind enough to hold a door for someone, why can’t you hold your tongue about a single word?

4. Oh, you want to bust out a dictionary and point out how this word is used in music? How right on the sheet music of a song you see it alerting the reader the song is to be played slowly? Yeah, are we really, at this moment talking about that? We’re not. You know it. I know it. You know when you hear someone use that argument of, “Oh why can’t I say the ‘N’ word cause rappers do?” You’re not Jay-Z. And no, I’m not a fan of that word either. When you defend your right to use the “R” word, that’s what you sound like to me. Just as ridiculous. You will never hear my son refer to another person who has any sort of intellectual disability by this term and mean it in some endearing/bonding way. Nope.

5. Oh, it’s a medical term! Yes, a completely outdated and no-longer-used one. If you see a doctor who still uses it, I urge you to find new medical care. Chances are they aren’t up on a lot of medical information either.

6. Things can be fire retardant. Why yes, they can be and thank goodness for such a technological advance. I am rather firmly against things catching fire. I am also against you pretending this argument is valid when you try to compare fire retardant-treated items and the phrase, “That’s retarded!” as the same. It’s not. One keeps kids’ pajamas from catching fire. The other is used to liken a human being to an object that no one wants or values.

It boils down to this. Be kind. Compassion is missing far too often in this world. You may say, “I didn’t mean your kiddo,” but here’s the thing. You referred to somebody’s kid. Another human being who has a family and friends. Likes and dislikes. Strengths and weaknesses. Something to offer this Earth we all live on. If you have not already, I urge you to take the pledge to end the word at

We all have many battles to fight, but don’t let this be the hill you choose to die upon. Choose kindness. Choose empathy. Choose anything but this word.  Choose to have an open mind.

 This post originally appeared on Autism With a Side of Fries.

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Originally published: September 24, 2014
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