Blog Carnival: The “R-Word”

This blog carnival features various opinions and perspectives about the increasing misuses of the word “retard”, especially in the autism community.

“The R-word. I get it now.” written by a mother of an autistic son:

“Please lose the word ‘retard’ from your vocabulary” written by a father of three autistic sons:

“Why ‘Retard’ is a Hate Crime” written by a physically disabled blogger:

“Mental Retardation” written by a mother of a son who is autistic and mentally retarded:

“Is ‘Autistic’ the New ‘Retard’?” written by a blogger on the autism spectrum:

“Take it from Glee’s Sue Sylvester: ‘Retard’ is Not Acceptable” written by a mother of a son with autism:

“Autism: Not the ‘R’ word again…” written by a mother of three sons, one of whom is autistic:

“The R-Word is not acceptable” written by a father of two boys, one with autism and one without:

“Retard” written by the mother of a daughter with a neuro-genetic disorder called Angelman Syndrome:

“Retarded” written by a mother of a son with autism:

“Retard” is a word that is becoming more prominent in everyday language, spoken and written by people of all ages, sexes, professions, and social statuses. Technically, the term is supposed to mean “a person with delayed development,” however, it has become so much more than that. A woman whose son had been diagnosed with both mental retardation and autism writes about how she did not want him to have the diagnosis of mental retardation because she “didn’t want that label on him,” even though it would give her son eligibility for extra financial benefits. However, she notes that mental retardation’s synonym “developmentally delayed” does not bother her at all. So what’s up with this “R-word”?

One blogger features a PSA video saying that the R-word is just like any other minority slur word, such as “nigger,” “fag,” and “spick,” which are heard much less in public because they are so frowned upon. But the R-word, on the otherhand, is often used very freely as an insult, sometimes as a joke and other times not. Another parent of a special needs child was worried that she might be being hypersensitive about the R-word, especially because people use it so light-heartedly. However, she decides that the problem is that when it’s used as an insult, it is being aimed at “all aimed at able-minded and able-bodied people, comparing their idiocy to those who are not.” Basically, it’d be like making fun of someone who can’t walk, while you can walk. It’s an unfair comparison.

Another issue with the R-word is when people use it to identify or characterize a person with autism, when technically, not all autistics are mentally retarded. Often, people with autism actually have very high I.Q.s, so to say they are retarded just doesn’t make any sense. A father of three autistic boys feels that calling an autistic child “special” or referred to as having autism isn’t a big deal, but that the word “retard” is degrading, ignorant, and dehumanizing. It’s also inaccurate. The R-word not only negatively affects people who are disabled  but also those indirectly affected by disability.  Another parent had to pick up her crying son early from elementary school one day after his friends were calling his autistic brother “a retard.” In another blog the upset sister of a boy with autism holds up note cards with all the awful ways in which people have actually defined “retarded” on the popular site,

Other than emotionally damaging children and families affected by autism (or other disabilities),  there are even greater effects of the R-word in society. A blogger on the autism spectrum says that the word “autistic” is becoming the new “retard.” She says that perhaps because autism awareness has increased so much, it has become mainstream enough that people are turning the word “autistic” as means of insulting one another, usually as a joke. Further, the R-word has caused a negative stigma about any person in society who has special needs, whether they are autistic, actually mentally retarded, or have some other disability. One blogger posts about how robbery, sexual assaults, physical assaults, and even murders are occurring because people have come to think so badly of the disabled and specifically target them. The R-word is also spreading dramatically, even into other cultures. Living in a bilingual city in which French is the most widely spoken language, a blogger explains how our slang and derogatory terms often become a regular part of the French’s vocabulary. He compares it to teens in high school who throw around the “latest trendy verbiage or insults.” Sadly, “retard” has become one of these trendy words.

Although I wish it were otherwise, I can’t say I’m not guilty of using the R-word as a slang term while talking with my friends. But like the solution that most of these blogs have suggested, I am actively trying to stop using it, and also correct others when they say it. I’ve found that every time I hear someone say something like “I’m so retarded” or “Stop being a retard,” it stands out to me like a sore thumb, whereas in the past it would have just blended with the other words around it. All in all, everyone needs to realize just how much the R-word can seriously affect others, whether they are disabled or not. Just because you declare something a joke doesn’t suddenly make a cruel word or remark magically acceptable. And as the mother of an autistic child puts it, it certainly “doesn’t give you the authority to decide whether the person your “joke” is making fun of should be offended or not.”

I created this image to represent how the words “autism” and “retard” have become so connected with one another. All of the colored words are different feelings, descriptions, and results of the misuse of the R-word. On the left, the only word going in the same direction and in the same color as “autism” and “retard” is the word “why?” The point I’m hoping to make is that there is absolutely no reason that someone has to use the R-word, and that all of these colored thoughts, feelings, and negative results can be avoided if we simply stop using it. If this will save the hurt and possibly even lives of other people, why not?


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