Thursday, January 5, 2012

What does "RETARDED" Mean To You?

Yesterday was my first day back to work in almost 2.5 weeks.
While it was a nice mini-vacation, it was also nice to get my hands back into what I really love doing: being a nurse.
My job is to help people: help fix them, help their pain, help them move on after an acute hospital stay.
But I can't help everyone's "hurt".
And what you are about to read below is something that really hurts.
When I got home from work last night, as I plopped on my bed to decompress from the day, I ran across this blog post from my friend, Jessica, over at Jumping Waves.




In fact, I don't think I breathed once as I read this.
I didn't feel my heart beat.
I am sure that my jaw was wide open in awe.
I have thought about this topic many times, yet never had the courage to write something such as this.
It's not that I am afraid or ashamed...I just didn't know how to put pen to paper and do it.

I’ve reposted this from Jessica's site, not in its entirety, so maybe someone will think twice before using the word “retarded”:

All around me, people use the word retarded without a second thought. Sometimes, I’ll say “Um, dude, really?” and they’ll say “Oops, my bad! But really! I was being so retarded!”

Sometimes, I let it slide. I realize that it’s a word that’s ingrained in our society’s vocabulary and people use it without a second thought to its meaning.

But what does it mean to be retarded? Well, I know what it doesn’t mean.

It doesn’t mean not being able to choose something for lunch despite 100 choices in front of you.

It doesn’t mean not being able to find your car keys.

It doesn’t mean saying the wrong thing to a person.

It doesn’t mean forgetting your best friend’s birthday.

It’s not something to describe yourself as when you’ve spilled your coffee, or tripped on a crack in the sidewalk.

It’s not something to describe your computer, car or phone.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary the word “retarded” means -

: slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress

For me, it’s not just any old word – it’s my daughter. My beautiful, bright, happy, loving, amazing daughter who is slow or limited in intellectual development and academic progress.

In our household, being retarded means something different.

It means not being able to fully care for yourself.

It means not understanding what the doctor is going to do to you.

It means not being able to explain what hurts when something hurts.

It means not being able to ride a two wheeler. Or read. Or ever be able to live on your own.

But ever the optimist, I also know that retarded means…

…never realizing the negativity behind the word retarded.

…never knowing the insensitivity surrounded the word’s usage.

…never realizing the ignorance of people.

…never knowing how other people view you.

Being retarded also means…

…loving unconditionally.

…finding joy in the smallest of things.

…being self-confident.

…not realizing that there are limitations.


One of Emma’s diagnoses is cognitively disabled. Which means retarded. When you call yourself retarded, you’re also calling my child stupid. Because you use the word as just that – another form of stupid.

Let’s get something straight here.

My daughter may have cognitive issues. She may have delays. She may never live on her own. Scratch that. She will never live on her own.

But Emma* is not stupid.

In her own way, Emma is very smart. Maybe smarter than us at times. She has more self-confidence than anyone I know who’s called themselves “retarded”. She is the best judge of a person’s character than anyone else I’ve ever known.

Yes, she is slow to learn things. But she is not stupid.

I know that most people don’t use the word “retarded” maliciously. Most people I know use it in a self-depreciating way. And when I point it out, they go “Oh wow! I’m sorry!” and they truly feel like a heel. But the thing is, you’re still using it in the way that people who do use it maliciously use it as – to describe stupidity.

So why not just use the word “stupid” instead? Because I know what “retarded” is. I live with it in the form of my daughter. And in our world “retarded” doesn’t equate to “stupid”.

*I have replaced Maura, Phoebe’s daughter, with Emma. Because I couldn’t have said what Phoebe has said any better.

How many times did you breathe when you read this?

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  1. how can you breathe when you're sobbing uncontrollably? i too have tried to find these words to explain to friends, family & coworkers that their choice of words rips my heart out. that line is so succinct, so perfect "When you call yourself retarded, you’re also calling my child stupid."

    thank you.

  2. reading it again is the same as reading it for the first time. Seriously. I wish I could take credit for writing it, but it was Phoebe at Herding Cats who put into words what many of us feel!

  3. Wow, thanks for sharing. I was upset about a month ago to hear my thirteen-year-old use this word when talking to a friend. I jumped on him with a full explanation and I think he "got it," but this collection of words is absolutely something I will be letting him read. Maybe this generation of kids who see special needs kids far more than we did growing up, will choose their words wiser.