Words are not just words.

I’ve been told several times this week than I’m being too sensitive. That the word “retard” isn’t offensive, and that I need to teach my daughter some resilience.

I need to teach Abby resilience? What many people coming to my last post didn’t realize is that is Abby isn’t my only child with special needs. She was the subject of that post because historically speaking, the word “retard” was reserved especially for people with Down syndrome. Everything I said also applies to my autistic son, Casey. My children don’t need to be taught resilience- they live it.  The have endured more in their short lifetimes than most humans will in their entire lives. They embody it everyday as they face a world that does not bend around their needs. It can be too harsh on their senses, too quick for their language, and cruel beyond what you could imagine had you never walked beside them.

My children are made fun of. I’ve seen kids snicker as Casey geeks out on something. I’ve seen them point. I’ve seen them mimic him. Abby faces a world of pity. Don’t believe me? Come with me to any of her doctor’s appointments. Her pediatrician’s waiting room is shared with the obstetrics waiting room.  On the surface, it’s a great idea. Pregnancy. Babies. Children. Yay! I watch the faces of some of the women as they recognize my daughter’s features. Some whisper quietly to the person they’re with. Some point. Some look at her with great pain and pity in their eyes. To the expectant mom in the waiting room, Abby is their worst case scenario.

In too many cases, my children are also the punchline to a joke. I see memes made out of people with disabilities- Down syndrome in particular. When I see a man wearing a superman costume being used as a punchline I see my daughter. I see her in the shape of his eyes, and the smile on his face.

Words are not just words. Words shape thoughts, thoughts shape people, people shape society. Society does not change unless it decides to fight against a word that has been used to harm.  Complacency thrives when people stop trying to be empathetic. It breeds on people saying “You’re too sensitive” when they are ignorant to the reality the offended deal with on a daily basis.   I’m constantly surprised by people who see the offense in racial and bigoted slurs, but see no harm in a word that degrades people who cannot speak for themselves. Why is a degrading word geared towards a group of disabled people any different than a degrading word that speaks of a group of people of a certain race or orientation?

Words have shaped how people view my children. They can give rise to empathy, to respect, to equality- but only if we stop putting up with the words that do the opposite. Words shape how the children on the playground approach my children, they make it okay for the person to post a hurtful meme of a man with Down syndrome, and the perpetuate the pity I see in the eyes of the expectant mother in the waiting room.

Words are not just words.

It’s not too sensitive to require a civilized society to act like one.

10 thoughts on “Words are not just words.

  1. Yes, yes and yes. I also get the “you are too sensitive” and it burns me each time. I am not even going to tell you what happened when I asked someone not to use the r word… except for the fact that I was “being too sensitive”.

  2. A recent study showed that among College age young adults..that measures of demonstrated empathy have dropped over the course of three decades at approximately 30%..

    Not surprising at all..as our culture is one that is no longer censored..for ‘the bad things’ in life…

    The positive aspect of this is that people can more openly express themselves with fewer fears..

    The negative aspect of this is that as clearly defined ethics are no longer as heavily prescribed by the culture itself…

    If each individual could be educated with a well thought out and eloquently expressed explanation of why this R word is actually a dagger like word to some people..maybe some people would listen and consider that word in their language…

    On the other hand..the problem is that relatively speaking few people in the general public have the attention span to do this..in our society that is growing more of one toward instant gratification in all areas of life as culture move on with greater and greater technological developments to increase the stimuluses for dopamine that make people ‘high’….

    So to use another analogy..for many people that hear this..it is like trying to alter the language of a Zombie on Crack…

    And yeah..with freedom of speech…it is a cry in the desert at most ..that is seriously at this..point.. something we are going to have to accept and educate ‘our’ children on..as far as why people seriously.. many of them..and more and more of them..just don’t give a sh** about how their behavior affects other people…in an emotional way…

    As many people are are simply driving themselves..toward the next dopamine stimulation high..instead of sharing love..and growing love for connections that are seriously necessary to survive for a social animal..to have any chance to survive ..in the real world..before technology provides the illusion that any of us could be independent..

    Otherwise known as the basic demonstration of human empathy…a quality that is growing weaker and weaker..as people are growing higher and higher..on instant gratification….

    This is human nature..and the natural forces that have been increased as a result of modern technology..are the genie let out of the bottle for good now..barring an extreme natural or man made disaster….

    But here is the thing…if any of ‘us’ give up on loving..as living..and become haters ourselves….

    It just makes things worse…


    And yes..this is what is happening to…

    Some people are simply giving up on love…..

    Even the ones who are hated the most…

    By haters…
    Otherwise known as people who have lost their humanity..of simply being human….

  3. I’m a long-winded person so, of course, I initially wrote an even MORE long-winded post! Then I deleted it and decided to save the topic for a future blog post.

    I used to work for a Plastic Surgeon. Some women in their 50’s and 60’s would choose to have a procedure called full-face laser resurfacing. It was a procedure performed in the OR and our surgeon (aaand his nurses aaaaand his surgical scheduler) would ALL inform you in advance–several times to make sure it truly sank in–that you would look like a burn victim for several weeks following the procedure. But those women glossed over those warnings, had the procedure performed, and immediately regretted it. Every.single.time.

    We had a separate waiting room for post-surgical patients to prevent new clients from seeing the burned, bruised, and bandaged patients. But yet every.single.time, after two weeks the women who had full-face laser resurfacing were THRILLED with the results and were recommending the procedure to their friends. WITHOUT FAIL. The patients who had, just 2 weeks earlier, been crying their eyes out, so full of regret, now wanted their friends to have the same thing done.

    I think of having a shared Obstetrics and Pediatrics waiting room in much the same way. Those surgical patients just needed time to absorb the radical change they had just undergone. And new clients who saw them would be shocked and horrified the red, raw, Aquaphor-slathered skin of the women who had just undergone the procedure.

    To a degree, this reminds me of your situation. Those pregnant moms need to live the fantasy. And let them live the fantasy. Because for A LOT of them, reality is about to smack them upside the face, the same way it did to us. And then they’ll find that their new reality can be pretty great too. They just need time to adjust to it.

    Hang in there and continue blogging. I write a blog and dream of being as famous in the blogosphere as you are. But I know it’s a double-edged sword. Because along with the love and adoration comes criticism and hurtful comments from internet trolls that burn you to the core. It’s easier said than done, but please please PLEASE continue to write your truth! Because you have a gift for putting OUR own feelings into words.

    1. No, they don’t need to “live the fantasy”. That means that somehow, my kid is inferior. A mistake. A bad thing. He is not.

  4. well put my friend–as a special education teacher I “protect” our children daily from these actions. I am hyper sensitive to how others see “our children”–kind of like a mama bear protecting her cubs. Our school is very accepting of children with special needs–we are a school of compassion and understanding–I am not saying that it has always been that way, it has taken a lot of work to get to this point. Hoping and wishing that children/adults with special needs could be seen as one of god’s creations and treated as such.

  5. The strangest thing to me is how adamant people are about their “right” to use the word “retard.” Sure, everyone has free speech, but if words are just words, as people argue that they are, then why can’t they just choose a different word? Knowing that this is a word that is so hurtful to so many people? The word “nigger” also used to be a socially acceptable word at one time, but we don’t walk around insisting that we have the right to say it. Well I suppose some people do. But not the nice people.

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