Welcome to Down Syndrome Awareness Month. This is a wonderful time for us to celebrate individuals who share a unique diagnosis. We rejoice in making the greater population aware of the fulfilling lives of our family members in the Down syndrome community. We also strive to make you aware of encounters that are not so pleasant but very real to us.
Words have power and I want to speak candidly about the use of the word RETARDED! In three months, I had three interesting encounters with persons using the word retarded. It was used by two parents of children with special needs and a teacher of children with special needs. Each encounter left me speechless and, in one case, gasping for air in disbelief.
On my morning commutes, I listen to one of my family focused Christian radio shows. This particular episode focused on the loss of a child. A father spoke of having a son and a daughter. The son has special needs. His daughter was suddenly ill and died. As he languished over losing her, he said “I thought God would have taken my retarded son over my daughter who was normal.” I could not believe my ears so I replayed it later that day to make sure I was not mistaken. I also looked up the year it was recorded. In my mind, it had to be more than three or four decades ago. To my surprise, it was in the last year!
The second occurrence was at Catherine’s weekly therapy session. Each week, we moms sit and exchange information and pleasantries. This particular week was no different as I sat with my group of moms and discussed programs and services for teenagers with special needs. As we wrapped up, another mom leaned over and said, “I was listening to your conversation and my little girl who is also retarded could benefit from those programs.” I happily gave her the information. Again, I could not believe my ears.
The third incident was the most gut wrenching. I was in my favorite department store with Catherine at one of the circular racks looking through clothing. As always she is right next to me and we are playing a game or she is listening to music on my cell phone. An older lady approached the rack. She started looking through items and looked at me and said, “I used to teach retarded children like your daughter but I am retired now.” No hello or how are you to me or Catherine. She just blurted it out. She continued to talk but I could not tell you anything she said. My eyes and heart were on fire and I grabbed Catherine, who weighs almost 100 lbs., and ran out of there. By the time I got to the door, I was literally carrying Catherine because I just wanted to get out.
Words have power and the Down syndrome community is fatigued and outraged by the use of this word. It is like someone is piercing our hearts with sharp words. There are other words to describe individuals in the Down syndrome community such as special needs, differently abled, developmentally delayed, intellectually disabled or mentally challenged. NEVER RETARDED!
Please think before you speak or utter inappropriate labels to describe persons with special needs.
“If we understood the power of our thoughts, we would guard them more closely. If we understood the awesome power of our words, we would prefer silence to almost anything negative. In our thoughts and words, we create our own weaknesses and our own strengths. Our limitations and joys begin in our hearts. We can always replace negative with positive.” -Betty Eadie