Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Retarded Battle Over the Word Retarded

Full disclosure: 

In my own humble opinion, I am not mentally retarded, although some of my critics have suggested otherwise in the past. 

I do, however, have a child with a genetic disorder and he is mentally retarded. That means that he has cognitive delays, and that he is unlike “regular” children. He has an issue with his genetic make-up that affects his physical and intellectual abilities. 

In the past, individuals with mental disabilities have been called mongoloids, morons, cretins, and imbeciles.  More recently, mentally retarded has been used. Now it is fashionable to say that these individuals have “developmental disabilities”, or that they have “global developmental delays”. I probably have used these terms myself over the years on various medical forms, school applications and whatnot. 

I actually have no problem myself with the term “mentally retarded”. 

I do cringe when “retard” is used as an insult, just as I would if I heard someone use “Jew” pejoratively, or as an adjective (“Jewing” someone down in price), or the unspeakable (except when black rap stars use it, of course) “N” word to describe black people. What I object to is the idea that someone’s reality, the way they were created (in my view, by G-d and in G-d’s image) is contemptible and an insult. I’m not talking about their opinions or politics-just the the state in which they entered this earth: disabled, or blind, black, brown, Asian or whatever. 

I object to all forms of censorship. 

I believe it’s wrong to ban thoughts and words. 

In a civilized society, undesirable speech and behaviour is self-policed. It’s a misguided policy to ban words and phrases. Attempting to “ban” the word retarded has no positive impact on the mentally retarded (‘developmentally delayed’) population. 

All it means is that people have to tip-toe even further around reality, and become ever more frightened of offending parents and relatives of those with disabilities. Aren’t there enough sensitivity minefields out there already? 

That’s why I think the “campaign” against “the r-word” is misguided and troubling and is bound to fail. 


Because it lacks emotional honesty, and skirts the truth. 

The truth is that parents in particular, of mentally retarded, or physically disabled children are terrified that our children cause revulsion, and that people will abuse them, disdain them and that they will lead meaningless lives.  

We are terrified that because they are mentally retarded or because their bodies have entrapped them in the most horrendous ways, that they will not get the educational opportunities that they need and deserve to live up to their full potential-whatever that may be. 

We die a little inside every time you stare at our children, or make fun of them.

We do wish that our flesh and blood, our beautiful and often helpless children, were not burdened by their intellectual and physical handicaps. We sometimes, even often wish we could make it all go away, but we can’t. 

We have to live in a world that has progressed but still reviles disability for the most part. 

One need only read the (mostly “progressive” and leftist) discourse on Sarah Palin’s son Trig to get an idea of just how disgusted people are by the vulnerable and disabled.  

The most vile and insidious hatred of the disabled comes undoubtedly from the left of the political spectrum. The left loathes the disabled.  Why be in denial about such an obvious fact?

We love our kids and we know that many of you are disgusted by them and have no patience for them. 

But we live for them and would die for them. 

So, I think many parents, instead of just admitting this, direct their efforts fruitlessly into campaigns against words, when what they are really worried about is that their kids are being treated as pathetic human garbage.  

But nobody can be forced into loving our children, or treating them with dignity and compassion. That kind of grace and charity can only be innate; it can only come from within. Isn't external enforcement of “tolerance” of any group an oxymoron, by definition?

Banning any particular descriptive will not change societal attitudes.  People will still stare, feel pity and feel revulsion about the disabled no matter how we characterize their intellectual or physical states. 

This train of thought may make me unpopular in the disability parenting community, but I frankly couldn’t care less. 

Focusing on words instead of the reality (see above) is, frankly, retarded. 

The focus should always be on making our children’s lives as meaningful as possible, and helping them live as independently as possible and not trying by force, campaign or language massaging to make anyone love and respect them as we do.