advocacy · autism · Down syndrome


There’s a sting I feel when that word is said. A jump in the blood in my veins. Because, for me, that word carries a weight. It reminds me of my children. It shows that even still, this world is not considerate of them, and what’s more, can be downright cruel.


The word used as slang bothers me. What’s worse for me though, is that it seems to not bother the people who use it. They throw it out in every day language as if it carried the same meaning as words like “goofball” and “sillypants.”  It’s not the same.

Down syndrome and Autism, Spread the Word to End the word

This is why. These are my kids. The word ‘retard’ in all of it’s forms is built upon a framework of the ugliest parts of disability.  It shows how, again and again, the disabled are the last to be treated like equals. Other derogatory terms are publicly decried from within the community that the word is offensive to and from without. Words like “faggot” and “nigger” are bleeped out on TV, as is completely necessary, but you’ll still see your favorite TV host using “retard” or “****tard” or something of the like without batting an eye.  And sure, they’ll hear it from the disability community, maybe even issue a one line apology on twitter, but that’s all.

The word “retarded” needs to go away. But I’m not crazy enough to say that it will. Like any word, no matter how ugly, people are still going to use it. What I want, at least for now, is for people who use it to understand the weight that it carries.  If you’re going to throw out that word in casual conversation, I want you and everyone around you to know that using it makes you look ugly, small, and completely socially unaware. Just the way anyone would if someone threw out any of the recognized socially disgusting words, a few I’ve mentioned above.  I want gasps to echo the same way as if you had used the n-word or others of the like, in place of ‘retard.’ Because THAT is the same.

The word retard, as I’ve said a million times before, uses my children and all that they endure, as a vehicle for your petty insult.  Because when you say that you’re acting retarded, you’re comparing yourself to my child. You’re saying that you’re stooping down to their level.  You can say you never saw it that way, that it’s just a word, but if you’re reading this, now you can’t. You now know better, so you can do better. You can be better. And the next time someone around you says something of the same, you can stand and gape at them in shock that they’d stoop so low as to devalue the lives of people who a great deal of the time cannot defend themselves in order to get a laugh.  And it can spread this way. You can help me by just understanding that this word carries weight, born by the people with the disabilities themselves, and to let your friends know that it’s not okay to use around you.   It’s the simplest things that can create the biggest change.

12 thoughts on “Retarded.

  1. Many people posting about this right now. And yet you talk about not being “crazy”. Or about the use of the r-word being “ugly” and “small”. Some would say that this slurs the mentally ill, the short of stature, or those who do not meet our society’s arbitrary standards of beauty. It is important to think about all the words we use carefully. I liked this post, where the blogger addresses the mental process behind a whole genre of slurs (why, exactly, are “goofball” and “sillypants” any better? What do they really mean?)

    So much of our language and thinking is based in “othering”, I don’t know that we can ever root it out completely. But I think that using the “r-word” as a springboard for critical thinking rather than an end in itself is more important.

    1. Words have weight, as I said above. In nitpicking the words I used here, you failed to see that I wasn’t using ‘small’ or ‘ugly’ as literal, and the word crazy is a mixed bag. I wrote just a few posts ago that I myself have mental illness. Using the word crazy isn’t the same to me as it is as using the word retarded, and never in any of my psych courses was this even mentioned, but I am interested in learning more.

      Is every word then on the same level then with retard? Should we campaign for people to stop using the words “small” and “ugly” too?

      1. No, but – as I was trying to say – I am not sure that campaigning against the r-word will really have any real effect either, except move the goalposts (e.g. “special”, “short-bus” etc.). Most people would say that they are not using “retard” literally, either, right? I was not nit-picking, I was arguing reductio ad absurdum.

        I do think that “r-word” campaigns are worthwhile insofar as they get people to think about how they use language in general. What do we really mean when we consider low intelligence to be the worst insult – regardless of the exact word we use? Eliminating the word without actually shifting the thinking behind it is, as Jisun wrote, just “pruning the poisoned tree”.

      2. You’re absolutely right and her post was spot on about this whole issue. She wrote it in a way that made more sense than anything I had put together in my brain. It is a moving goal post until we can shift thinking. I want that.

        Thank you for commenting. I dig anyone who can throw out “I was arguing reductio ad absurdum” in a comment.

  2. Although I work with special Ed kids. I don’t agree with you at all . Your beautiful daughter has what appears to be downs. She isn’t “retarded”. However, you called her retarded and YOU consider her retarded.
    “below-average intelligence or mental ability and a lack of skills necessary for day-to-day living”, is the definition of mental retardation. I have to say every kid I’ve worked with with downs and autism are extremely bright. I would NEVER say they were retarded. Retard is an old word that is not even used as diagnosis anymore. Drs don’t say your child is mentally retarded they say your child is Intellectually disabled. No one who throws around the word retard thinks of your kid. Yes it is used as an insult or a way to put down someone’s intelligence. Now if someone said, “you are so disabled, or what are you disabled?” I’d get annoyed and upset. That’s just my opinion. I have asked people what they imagine when they think of a retarded person and the reply I got was “someone who has been electroshocked in a old crazy home by nurses and nuns”. Now, that’s an eye roller. Your children look nothing like that. Your children are NOT retarded.

    1. In my humble opinion, I don’t thinks she’s calling her children ‘R’ rather I believe she is illustrating the point that when people use the “R” word it disregards their dignity, their individual worth, that every day that have to counter difficult things, because of their disabilities. I’ve had opportunities to work with kids who have Down Syndrome as well as Autism. People often see them for their differences/disabilities and not for the wonderful people they are. I believe is the point she is making when she says, “Because when you say that you’re acting retarded, you’re comparing yourself to my child. You’re saying that you’re stooping down to their level.” Is people are disrespecting her children not that she calls them as such, when they use that word.

      I am not posting to argue with anyone, I’ve seen how the word is used, it makes me all twisted up inside, because words have meaning. Whether it is a societal thing or an individual thing, people should think about what they mean.

      1. opps I meant that every day they have to counter difficult things, because of their disabilities.

  3. I wish very much that it were true that no one who throws the word “retard” around is thinking of kids with Down’s. Unfortunately, you can do a Google image search on “special olympics meme” or “retarded meme” and get a lot of really ugly examples of what people think of as “retarded.”

    Saying that Lexi is the one who thinks of her kids as retarded is like saying to a black person, “YOU are the one who thinks of your child as a n*****. People who use that word don’t mean your kid, they mean somebody else, a criminal or something.” People may not be even thinking of anyone in particular, but they insult and demean a whole group anyway when they do it.

    Are the people who make those “retarded” memes idiots? Sure. But they have power, and their words and images do too, and NOT because the community of the disabled and their families gives them power. Many of them don’t mean to be cruel — and would not be, if they learned that they were being so. Some progress has been made in this arena of discrimination and in others too. We have to keep trying.

  4. I wrote about this on my personal Facebook today. I was prompted by a meme going around of two apes, one says: why did you unfriend me, the other says: because you are a retard. This stung, it stung because it was posted not by a child, but by a teacher, who should know better. This same scenario has happened to my son, he has been defriended based on his disability and other kids not wanting to be seen to be associating with him. It happened so much he tried to kill himself. The word carries so much weight because those who choose to use it in a derogatory way, use it toward our kids as if they are not valuable human beings. It’s foul and disrespectful and is meant as an insult in it’s intent!

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