Since I was nine years old (I'm 16 now), my brother has been through dozens of therapists, schools, doctors, surgeries, tests, and more to try and decipher exactly why he isn't what's considered 'normal'. He started talking at around four years old and was only mainstreamed in school about a year ago, still with an aide and resource room. He's a really happy kid- hilarious, daring, and to this day I haven't met a person who he hasn't made smile. He's an infectious kid- you wouldn't think something was wrong with him at all.
This is why I have a problem with the word retarded.
Now don't misunderstand, my brother is not retarded or on the spectrum. But the implications apply to any special needs- why use such a serious adjective for such trivial things?
This occured to me a few days ago, when kids in my class were goofing off, jumping around. One called the other retarded, and I quickly corrected him and told him to please not use that word. He immediately questioned me, laughed, and refused to listen. He uses the word as a joke now to see my reaction. The other boys join him.
Though my brother is not seriously disabled, I am still very sensitive to the subject and get defensive very quickly. And yes, I know the dictionary definition of retarded is 'to be slowed'. But when used as an insult to belittle a person and mark them as different or idiotic, you are transitively calling people with mental retardation idiots who deserved to be talked down to. I just imagine my brother overhearing someone calling people who go to speech therapy morons and instantly feel sick.
I did tell my teacher and he didn't do anything and my parents told me not to think about it so much, but what kills me is that someday someone will hear these boys calling someone a retard, or saying that someone has down syndrome, and be incredibly hurt and offended. How do you justify calling someone an idiot because of their mental condition?
Simple. You don't.
Now I figure that most of you don't use that word, but I advise you please to call people out on it. I called my best friend out on it, and although it was a word she used to use regularly, she's almost stopped altogether. If you wouldn't say it to the mother of someone with disabilities, then I advise that you keep your mouth shut.
Originally published on June 4, 2013.